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TSA agents will get masks to help prevent coronavirus spread

A TSA agent in an empty John Wayne Airport
A TSA checkpoint at John Wayne Airport, near empty, in Santa Ana on Tuesday. The TSA has agreed to provide its officers masks to wear while screening passengers.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The union representing the nation’s 46,000 Transportation Security Administration officers said Friday it has convinced the agency to supply screening officers with respiratory masks to wear while on duty.

TSA officers, who already wear gloves while checking identification and screening passengers, will be supplied with N95 respiratory masks before each shift.

The American Federation of Government Employees said it had been requesting the masks for its members since January and was notified of the TSA’s decision Wednesday.

“We’ve had meetings, made phone calls, and sent emails almost daily urging TSA management to provide N95 masks and other protective equipment for our officers,” Hydrick Thomas, AFGE TSA Council 100 president, said in a statement. “Our efforts have finally paid off and now [Transportation Security Officers] can serve the public without fear of infecting themselves or passengers.”

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The TSA confirmed on its website Friday that 46 TSA screening officers have tested positive for the coronavirus in the past 14 days, with 19 of those working in New York and seven in New Jersey. No TSA officers in California tested positive in the past 14 days but earlier in the month, three TSA officers who work at Mineta San Jose International Airport tested positive for the coronavirus.

At Los Angeles International Airport, two screeners who checked arriving passengers for signs of the coronavirus on behalf of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested positive for the virus earlier this month.

“TSA remains committed to the health and safety of our workforce and is now authorizing the use of eye protection and N95 respirators for employees,” the TSA said in a statement Friday. “Employees have had the option to wear surgical masks since the beginning of the pandemic, and use of TSA standard nitrile gloves continues to be mandatory.”

TSA officers must first undergo training on the use of the masks, and the TSA said the masks will begin shipping out early next week.

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The Washington Post reported Thursday that the N95 masks, which are designed to screen out 95% of airborne particles, are part of a stockpile of 1.5 million masks that the Department of Homeland Security had in an Indiana warehouse. The masks are past their expiration date, but CDC studies have shown that the N95 masks are still functional beyond their expiration date if they are stored properly.


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