Democrats press TSA chief on coronavirus protections for agents
Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday pressed the top Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official over how his agency plans to ensure protections for agency workers amid the worsening coronavirus outbreak.
At a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing, Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) sought clarification from Administrator David Pekoske about what kind of health insurance is being provided for part-time employees infected by coronavirus.
“When somebody is touched by coronavirus, we want to make sure that a worker doesn’t have to choose between paying for their health care, paying for their deductibles, so to speak, for being taken care of, and also having to choose between paying their bills and coming to work,” Correa said.
Pekoske said leave that is set aside for sickness and bad weather can be used by part-time workers if they need to recover from contracting the coronavirus.
“I just want to reassure the public that we’re on top of this and that we’re doing what we need to do to protect the workers as well as the public,” Correa said.
Three TSA employees in California tested positive for the coronavirus, the agency confirmed Tuesday. The employees, who work at Mineta San Jose International Airport in Santa Clara County, and all other workers they came in contact with over the past two weeks are quarantined at home.
Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.) pressed Pekoske on what steps TSA has taken to clean checkpoints at airports.
Pekoske said that as of Tuesday, TSA agents now replace hand swabs each time the devices are used to look for traces of explosives on a passenger’s hands or belongings.
He also said checkpoints are being regularly cleaned and that passengers are allowed to bring larger quantities of sanitizers through security.
“It’s going to require a little bit more screening on our part because we have to verify that that is, in fact, hand sanitizer in the bottle, but we do want to increase that volume to make it easier for passengers, particularly those that don’t check bags, to bring a volume of sanitizer with them,” Pekoske told lawmakers. “Because, as you know, you can go to another city and find none available on the shelves.”
Coronavirus fears have prompted airlines to cut back on flights, with losses projected at $113 billion for the industry.
Lawmakers at the hearing said they don’t expect the coronavirus outbreak to get any easier in the upcoming weeks and urged Pekoske to monitor the cleanliness of all TSA checkpoints.
“Coronavirus is just one of many others to come, so we need to make sure that your workforce is prepared to address these health issues, as well as terrorist issues that are coming at us,” Correa said.