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Why we’re introducing a bill to require temperature checks in airports

August 12, 2020, 5:55 PM UTC
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 24: Travelers walks past a test system of thermal imaging cameras which check body temperatures at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) amid the COVID-19 pandemic on June 24, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. The system is being tested in the international terminal and can flag passengers who have a fever, one of the symptoms of the coronavirus. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Mario Tama—Getty Images

An interconnected nation like ours cannot stand still. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the airline industry. When people cannot move efficiently, it spills over to all sectors of our economy. In fact, before the pandemic, commercial aviation drove 5% of U.S. GDP and helped support 10.6 million U.S. jobs, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

When commercial aircraft are not flying, our economy is dying.

To get our nation back on its feet, we must get back in the air. That means we must find ways to promote safe travel with measures that slow the spread of COVID-19. That is why we introduced the Healthy Skies Act along with Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) on July 16. (Both of us represent districts near the Charlotte, N.C., international airport, which is a major hub for American Airlines. As a result, we have a significant number of constituents who are either employed by American Airlines or by the CLT airport itself.)

Air travel is critical to our economy, but a confined space can pose coronavirus contamination risks that must be taken into account. CEOs of major airlines such as United, American Airlines, and IAG recently declared in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence that “given the unquestioned importance of transatlantic air travel to the global economy as well as to the economic recovery of our businesses, we believe it is critical to find a way to reopen air services between the U.S. and Europe.” 

This bill will begin that process. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other leading medical institutions have declared that a fever above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19. Under this legislation, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would identify at least 10 domestic airports for a limited experimental trial study. As part of the security screening at these airports, the TSA would use appropriate technology to perform temperature screenings of passengers in a safe and unobtrusive way. Passengers with fevers in excess of 100.4 would not be permitted through security.

The purpose of this bill is to help Congress and health officials better understand the degree to which TSA checkpoints could serve, in some capacity, as a means to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and future pandemics. Because some patients can be asymptomatic, it is not possible to identify every single infected traveler at a TSA checkpoint. We can, however, prevent passengers with one of the most common symptoms from boarding a commercial aircraft and possibly placing other travelers at risk. It is also important to note this legislation carves out exceptions for medical conditions unrelated to COVID-19 that could result in someone’s temperature running high.

Ultimately, our job in Congress is to help find ways to slow the spread of this pandemic and facilitate a great economic comeback. The Healthy Skies Act is one of several steps that could help return confidence to air travelers and allow our interconnected economy to once again soar to new heights.

Ted Budd is the U.S. representative for North Carolina’s 13th District.

Ralph Norman is the U.S. representative for South Carolina’s 5th District.

Neither congressman has companies in their respective districts that stand to benefit directly from this bill.