Eastern Iowa Airport looking to implement mandatory, first-of-their-kind health screenings for passengers

Published: Jul. 17, 2020 at 1:00 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The Eastern Iowa Airport estimates it’s losing up to $1.7 million a month, with its passenger traffic still less than half of what it would normally be this time of year.

The airport received nearly $23 million in federal CARES funding this spring to curb those losses, and now it’s planning to use a portion of that money to try to bring passengers back.

“I think if people are going to travel again, if people are going to move about the country and get on airplanes, they want to be assured that something’s being done to make the experience safer,” said Dr. Tim Sagers, the COVID-19 clinical director for Mercy Medical Center.

Mercy and the Eastern Iowa Airport worked together to develop the “Travel Well” program, a required health screening for all CID passengers before they go through the TSA security checkpoint.

The screening begins with a temperature check, and passengers have to answer a few questions about recent health history, such as if they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or have a cough.

The airport said this primary health screening takes about 10 seconds and that most people will be done after that.

But if someone fails the first screening, they’ll go to a private area for a secondary screening, where they will talk with a medical professional from Mercy about the cause behind their fever or other symptoms, a process the airport said should take no more than 15 minutes.

“By doing a plan like this, with two layers of health screening, we’ll make sure that the people that get on an aircraft and need to be on an aircraft will get on the airplane, but it’ll be safe for everyone flying,” Dr. Sagers said.

The airport said it will ultimately be up to the airline to decide if a person can fly or not, with the mandatory screenings providing more information to airline staff as they make that decision.

Eastern Iowa Airport Director Marty Lenss said they do anticipate some passengers will refuse a screening, though he said if the “Travel Well” plan is approved by the airport commission, his staff will work to widely publicize and inform customers about the new screening requirements.

“We’ll deal with that on a one-off case, but they will not be authorized access,” Lenss said.

The airport commission will be receiving feedback from the public on this plan up until July 24. Then the commission will vote on the plan July 27.

If the plan is approved, it’ll be the first mandated health screening in a US airport, according to CID staff, who said some other airports offer voluntary screenings.

“There’s really no cohesive federal plan on how to make air travel safer,” Dr. Sagers said, noting that Mercy and CID incorporated the “Runway to Recovery” guidance jointly issued by the U.S. Departments of Transportation, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services.

According to Lenss, the initial cost to set up the screening area will be between $100,000 and $125,000, including fixtures that can be moved and stored if the need for a screening area goes away. After that, he said it will cost around $600,000 to operate the health screenings for a year, though that amount could change based on changes to flight schedules and volume.

Lenss said CID will use its CARES allotment to fund the program.

“The key to all of this for the entire industry, is get the passengers back in the air, and health screening, I think, goes a long way to help,” he said.

If the airport commission approves the plan, Lenss said “Travel Well” would be fully functional by mid-September.

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