CHANTILLY, Va. (FOX 5 DC) - Despite repeated pleas from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discouraging air travel, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), which represents officers with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the D.C. region, has said that people are continuing to hop on planes left and right.
Joseph Fulks, union president at Washington-Dulles-International Airport (IAD) told FOX 5’s Ayesha Khan that too many officers are getting sick with COVID-19 and the union is worried that the numbers will continue to increase.
That worry, Fulks said, is heightened even more because round two of holiday travel is just a few weeks away.
“We have a number of high-risk officers, we have officers who are senior officers that are older people and are generally and genuinely concerned about the situation,” Fulks explained.
Fulks said the challenge of handling travelers during the pandemic is most acute at airports across the country.
A lot of times, he said, many TSA officers are in close proximity with passengers during the security and screening process.
“We are on the front lines of screening thousands of people a day and Dulles is a big airport where we see lots and lots of people, so we are concerned about our families and our health,” he said.
That concern, Fulks said, is increasing because the total number of positive cases at Dulles is going up.
“I don’t want to tell people not to fly but please just think twice about coming to the airport because there are so many ways to expose yourself to COVID especially at the airport,” Fulks said. “I have spoken with officers who are at home currently battling COVID and officers who are also ordered to quarantine because of exposure.”
An airport employee checks the temperature of passengers before they are allowed to board their flight at Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD) on November 10, 2020, amid the Coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)
According to TSA’s official website, there are a little more than 630 TSA employees with active COVID-19 infections across the country.
In the DMV, Dulles Airport has had the highest number of total confirmed cases at 41 as of Dec.3, with the most recent confirmed case on Dec. 1.
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport has total confirmed cases of 39.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport has 25 total confirmed cases.
“Our officers just want to go to work and they want to come home and they want to be safe just like everyone else so just keep that in mind, these are people who have families,” said Fulks.
Ayesha also spoke with Lisa Farbstein, a strategic communications and public affairs spokesperson with the TSA. In an emailed statement she said:
“The coronavirus is in the communities where we live. What is happening in terms of TSA cases is what we are seeing nationwide in our communities. TSA leadership has been encouraging and reminding employees regularly since the start of the pandemic to take the same precautions against the virus when they are not at the airport as they are required to take while working - wear a mask, socially distance, wash your hands often, avoid large gatherings and avoid socializing in groups.”