© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

3 TSA Screeners In San Jose, Calif., Have Contracted Coronavirus, Agency Says

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security seal is seen as a TSA official moves a bin for additional screening at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
David Goldman
A U.S. Department of Homeland Security seal is seen as a TSA official moves a bin for additional screening at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Updated at 9:20 p.m. ET

Three security screeners at a Northern California airport have tested positive for the new coronavirus, the Transportation Security Administration confirmed in an email late Tuesday.

The transportation security officers, all of whom work at Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport, are the first confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus within the agency, according to a union official with TSA Council 100.

The identities of the three screeners have not been released.

"The officers are receiving medical care and all TSA employees they have come in contact with over the past 14 days are quarantined at home," the TSA, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement.

"Screening checkpoints remain open and the agency is working with the CDC, as well as the California Department of Public Health and the Santa Clara County Public Health Department to monitor the situation as well as the health and safety of our employees and the traveling public."

The three officers would have come into contact with thousands of passengers passing through the airport's security checkpoints, TSA union officials say.

James Mudrock, local union president for security screeners in Northern California, said he learned of the first confirmed case early Tuesday morning. He added that about 40 employees were told not to come to work and that a security checkpoint was closed at the San Jose airport Tuesday morning. He later said all the checkpoints had stayed open.

The two other cases were confirmed Tuesday evening.

"Just by the nature of the job, transportation security officers are in a vulnerable position in the case of an outbreak like this," Mudrock, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1230, said.

In a letter sent Monday to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., pressed the Trump administration on how it's guiding DHS employees and contractors to take precautions in response to the virus.

Cantwell, ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight of the TSA, also questioned whether the Department of Homeland Security has a pandemic response plan in the event of an outbreak at or near its facilities.

Other union officials say that the TSA lacks sufficient resources, training and planning to protect its employees, who come into daily contact with the public more than any other federal agency.

That includes, in some parts of the country, shortages of cleaning supplies, protective gloves and masks. The union asked on Tuesday for more effective masks, but that request was rejected, Reuters reported.

The challenges come as the agency faces a hiring and overtime freeze.

"The agency to protect the American people isn't funded enough to protect the American people," said Joe Shuker, a top TSA union official in Philadelphia.

Copyright 2021 KUER 90.1. To see more, visit KUER 90.1.

Andrew Becker joined KUER in 2018 as the host and producer of an upcoming investigative podcast before becoming news director. He spent more than a decade covering border, homeland and national security issues, most recently for The Center for Investigative Reporting + Reveal in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has focused on waste, fraud and abuse, with stories ranging from corruption and the expanded use of drones along the U.S.-Mexico border to police militarization and the intersection of politics and policy related to immigration, terrorism and drug trafficking. His reporting has appeared in news outlets such as the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and PBS/FRONTLINE, been cited in U.S. Supreme Court and District Court briefs and highlighted by John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight.” His work has been recognized by the Online News Association, Society of Professional Journalists and been nominated for a National Emmy, among others. He has taught at the University of Utah, and won fellowships from John Jay College in New York City and the University of California, Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. He also sits on an advisory board for the National Center on Disability and Journalism, based at Arizona State University. He received a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley.