TSA briefs House committee on pandemic protections for employees, travelers

Washington-DC

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — An increase in vaccination efforts across the U.S. has started to thaw the frozen airline industry, and the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday it is continuing to update operations to prepare for more travelers.

“No matter what, we were not going to sacrifice our security mission, and we won’t as the summer volume increases,” acting TSA Administrator Darby LaJoye told a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

The subcommittee chair, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-CA, asked LaJoye how TSA will keep employees safe when not every passenger will be vaccinated against COVID-19. LaJoye said about 40 percent of TSA workers are fully vaccinated, and all now have the opportunity to get the shot.

“It really has been a gamechanger from where we were several months ago,” he said.

LaJoye told lawmakers other protections include more than a thousand new ID and reservation screening systems in airports across the country.

“Passengers are absolutely going to realize a much more seamless, a much more touchless experience,” he said.

The federal mask mandate for travelers also now extends to Sept. 13.

“What challenges have been encountered in the enforcement of this mandate, and what actions has TSA taken as a result?,” asked Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-TN, who is the ranking member on the subcommittee.

TSA reports about 2,000 incidents involving mask noncompliance, mostly onboard planes. LaJoye told Fleischman most resulted in warnings, but some escalated to arrests.

“The message for the traveling public is please adhere to the mask requirements,” LaJoye said.

LaJoye hopes these measures will also ease staffing concerns.

“This has raised questions about TSA’s readiness to support the commercial air transportation system without modifying passenger screening protocols and compromising public safety,” Roybal-Allard said.

LaJoye said TSA’s recruitment efforts have returned its workforce almost to pre-pandemic levels. Since the start of the pandemic, TSA reports nearly 8,000 of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19, and 16 have died.

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