TSA may begin checking passengers’ temperatures — but will that be enough?

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Shot of a young man getting his temperature taken with an infrared thermometer by a healthcare worker during an outbreak

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says it’s working to implement passenger temperature checks at a dozen unidentified airports as early as next week, The Wall Street Journal first reported. The details, however, are under review by the White House and are subject to change.

In April, the TSA conducted a week-long temperature check pilot at Washington Dulles International (IAD), the Journal added.

Recently, there’s been discussion in the health community around what type of passenger screening is the most reliable — and what’s too invasive.

Temperature checks, in particular, have proved to be an unreliable source when it comes to detecting the coronavirus. That’s because symptoms vary significantly from one person to the next, and many people who have contracted the coronavirus have been asymptomatic.

When the CDC screened arriving passengers from China in mid-February, not one U.S. coronavirus case was caught as a result of temperature checks, according to CNN. That hasn’t stopped some airlines, such as Frontier, from adding passenger temperature checks to their own safety procedures.

The Journal also cited concerns about the quality of the temperature-screening equipment and the logistics of screening travelers— an elevated temperature is not necessarily indicative of COVID-19.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the airline industry has been hit especially hard. As of April 29, 500 TSA employees had tested positive for coronavirus and six had died. By the end of April, the Association of Flight Attendants started making calls to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to require personal protective equipment (PPE) for both the flight crew and passengers.

Now, nearly all of the major U.S. airlines have policies requiring travelers and crew to wear face masks — but there’s still concern about the spread of the virus without the adoption of universal passenger screening across all airports.

In April, TSA made changes to allow passengers to wear face masks while in the security check line and made exceptions to its liquid size requirements for hand sanitizer. Airlines have also made some serious changes like regularly fogging their aircraft as well as increasing their regular cleaning. But is that enough to make passengers feel safe enough to fly again? Or will additional screening be the answer?