House passes bill to require TSA plan on improving airport security screenings during pandemic
The House on Tuesday passed legislation that would require the Transportation Security Administration to establish a formal plan to improve airport security screening protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Passed by a 319-105 vote as part of a single vote on multiple noncontroversial measures en bloc, the bill would direct the TSA, in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Department of Health and Human Services, to issue a plan within 90 days to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread at passenger screening checkpoints and among agency personnel.
It would include an “identification of best practices” developed by foreign governments, airports and air carriers during the pandemic as well as federal agencies handling security screenings outside of airports.
And within a year of the TSA issuing such a plan, the Government Accountability Office would then conduct a review of the efforts to implement it.
“As Americans begin to travel again, we must take steps to guarantee the safety of critical frontline workers and air passengers from the dangers posed by the virus, including the delta variant and other variants that could come our way,” said Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of a House Homeland Security subcommittee on border security, facilitation and operations.
More than 8,300 TSA employees have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, including 16 who died, according to the agency.
The CDC announced in May that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not have to wear masks in most settings, with airports and public transit being one of the few exceptions.
People are still universally required to wear masks inside airports as well as on airplanes unless they are actively eating or drinking.
The TSA also says that it has increased the frequency of disinfecting surfaces in security checkpoint areas, required officers to wear masks and gloves, and opened more checkpoint lanes to reduce the time people spend waiting in line to be screened.
The number of passengers screened in airports has been growing in recent weeks as people have resumed traveling. While nearly half of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated, COVID-19 cases have been growing due to the spread of the delta variant largely among the unvaccinated population.
The House also passed separate legislation on Tuesday that would require the TSA to develop plans to prepare for future communicable disease outbreaks and public health threats to the transportation security system.
The TSA would further be required to conduct a survey of its workforce to gain feedback about the agency’s response to the pandemic, such as the access to protective equipment and outreach conducted during contact tracing after an employee tested positive for the virus.
“Given the importance of the transportation system in the economy and everyday life of this country, it is paramount that the federal government ensure better preparedness and resilience of the system,” said Rep. John Katko (N.Y.), the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee.