Budd Calls for Support for TSA Temperature Check Program

July 22, 2020 by Dan McCue
United Airlines planes are parked at Orlando International Airport. United said Tuesday, July 21 that it lost $1.63 billion in the second quarter as revenue plunged 87%, and it will operate at barely over one-third of capacity through September as the coronavirus throttles air travel. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

WASHINGTON – Rep. Ted Budd, R-N.C., took to the floor of the House Wednesday to urge members to support his bill requiring the Transportation Security Administration to conduct a pilot temperature screening program of all airline passengers.

Budd and Reps. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., and John Larson, D-Conn., introduced the bipartisan Healthy Skies Act earlier this month arguing that temperature screening is necessary to help keep the flying public safe.

“Reopening America should be the top priority of our government,” Budd said. “Making sure air travelers are healthy enough to fly is a common sense way to boost passenger confidence and jumpstart economic activity.”

For his part, Norman said while state and local officials work to get the nation back on its feet, air travel poses a unique challenge.

Therefore, he said, “it’s important to study and understand how TSA checkpoints might play a role in our fight against this and future pandemics.”

As currently written, the bill would require the TSA to carry out a pilot passenger screening program at a minimum of 10 airports.

Passengers would be screened before proceeding through security, and those found to have temperatures exceeding what the Centers for Disease Control defines as acceptable would not be allowed to fly.

The legislation adds, however, that the TSA administrator “shall consider a resolution process for identifying medical conditions unrelated to COVID-19 that could result in a temperature that exceeds CDC guidance.”

The bill also includes a sunset provision that would end temperature checks on the date of the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

There are, of course, those who question the reliability of temperature screening when it comes to the coronavirus.

Among them is TSA Administration David Pekoske, who said earlier this month that he’d spoken with medical professionals and the Centers for Disease Control, and his takeaway was that “temperature checks are not a guarantee that passengers who don’t have an elevated temperature also don’t have COVID-19.”

A recent report published by the government, Runway to Recovery, also questioned the reliability of temperature checks.

However, it said that airlines and airports may need to consider the use of temperature screening to meet destination requirements or requirements of local health authorities.

It also said the screening could serve as a general deterrent for passengers who may have otherwise considered traveling when ill.

“It should be noted that some persons with chronic, non-COVID related health issues may have an elevated body temperature; policies should be implemented as part of a temperature screening program to ensure such persons are not unfairly blocked from air travel if their illness does not threaten public health,” the report says.

A separate bill introduced in May by Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., members of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, instructs the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Transportation to establish a joint task force to address the logistical, health, safety, and security issues arising from continued air travel during the coronavirus pandemic.

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