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DHS: TSA Considers Temperature Screening, Thermal Imaging

We’re not going to eliminate risk, we can never eliminate risk,” Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said as he wore a face mask for his tour of Alliance Airport. “How do we buy that risk down?

by Kyle Arnold, The Dallas Morning News / May 21, 2020
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf (left) gets off a helicopter after receiving an aerial tour around the Alliance Airport area in Fort Worth by Ross Perot, Jr (not pictured), Thursday, May 21 2020. Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News

(TNS) -- After TSA rolled out a series of new measures Thursday to encourage social distancing and stop the spread of COVID-19, Acting U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said the agency is considering checking temperatures and thermal imaging to help screen for the virus.

Wolf, a Plano native who toured Alliance Airport in Fort Worth for a look at shipping infrastructure, said it is a possibility that passengers will be screened for elevated temperatures before they board planes.

“We’re looking at temperature checks, thermal imaging and other technologies to see what we can do to provide some layer of security,” Wolf said Thursday.

Air carrier trade group Airlines 4 America has been pushing federal officials to take on the responsibility of screening passengers for health concerns before they board.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly has been particularly vocal that airlines are not equipped take temperatures and make recommendations on whether passengers are well enough to fly, something he reiterated Thursday in the company’s annual shareholder meeting conference call.

“In terms of our airport environment, we are recommending that the TSA undertake temperature checks at the screening checkpoint,” Kelly said.

The Transportation Security Administration falls under the Department of Homeland Security, the agency Wolf has been running since November. But screenings won’t be a “panacea” for stopping the spread of the virus.

“We’re not going to eliminate risk, we can never eliminate risk,” Wolf said as he wore a face mask for his tour of Alliance Airport. “How do we buy that risk down? And I think that’s what we’re looking at how do we buy that down so that we make sure that folks perhaps with elevated temperatures, perhaps are at the beginning of feeling sick, we can identify those individuals and not have them fly.”

Airlines have taken measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, such as limiting capacity and mandating face masks. All of the major carriers have said they will not enforce face mask rules once the plane has pulled back from gates.

TSA’s newest measures don’t include temperature checks but do help put distance between passengers. New rules also ask passengers to put foods in a separate bag so that security screeners don’t have to handle it. Passengers will also be able to scan their own boarding passes.

TSA agents are already required to wear face masks.

While health screenings aren’t a part of the process now, Wolf said Homeland Security is interested in doing what it can to give passengers the confidence to travel again.

“But it is certainly not going to be a panacea, it’s not going to be the end-all solution where everyone can come into an airport environment and take masks off and act like they’re safe as they can be,” Wolf said. “It’s another tool in our toolbox that we’re looking at to see if it’s feasible in that airport environment.”

Wolf’s visit to North Texas Thursday and Friday will include trips to American Airlines headquarters in Fort Worth on Thursday to meet with executives there. He will also visit DFW International Airport on Friday and meet with local first responders.

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