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Las Vegas airport sees TSA COVID-19 cases dropping quickly

New cases of COVID-19 among Transportation Security Administration workers at McCarran International Airport have declined significantly in recent months after rising dramatically to close out 2020 and to start 2021.

Positive cases at Las Vegas’ airport spiked 34 percent between Dec. 9 and Jan. 5, climbing from 101 to 123. By Feb. 1, the number had jumped to 165.

But since, the number of new cases at McCarran has dwindled, with just nine between Feb. 1 and Friday. The latest positive case occurred on March 22, according to TSA data.

The slowing of new cases over that 53-day period is a stark contrast to what the TSA saw to close out last year.

During a 49-day stretch from Oct. 22 to Dec. 9, the TSA saw a 146 percent increase in cases at McCarran, going from 41 to 101, which at the time had TSA agents concerned.

Reported cases of coronavirus among TSA employees nationwide also have dipped. Between Feb. 1 and Friday, there have been 855 new cases reported, a 13 percent increase. That’s a significant change from the 67 percent increase in reported cases nationwide between Dec. 9 and Feb. 1.

Nationwide, 7,223 TSA employees had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Friday, with 271 of those marked as active cases. There is no data available to indicate how many of the McCarran cases are active.

Fifteen TSA employees nationwide have died from COVID-19 complications, with five deaths being reported since Dec.9.

TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers attributed the agency’s positive case movement to declining positivity rates.

“It’s reflective of what’s happening in the larger community, because our officers and employees live in the community,” Dankers said. “You can look at the daily passenger volume … and you take all that information and it really shows it’s mirroring what’s happening in the community.”

The lower number of new cases is occurring even as traffic volume is increasing at airports across the country. As of Thursday, there had been 15 straight days of 1 million-plus passengers screened by TSA agents nationwide, marking the busiest stretch since last March, when travel came to a near-halt as the impacts of the pandemic began to emerge.

That rise in passengers has TSA agents worried there could be another spike in cases.

“There is concern with the passenger volumes since Las Vegas has opened up,” said Becky Esquivel, American Federation of Government Employees Local 1250 vice president, who represents TSA employees and works at McCarran. “In the meantime, we will protect ourselves at work and outside of work.”

The TSA has safety measures in place to help protect its employees from possibly contracting the virus from the traveling public.

Those measures include installing 72 acrylic protective barriers at McCarran in August. The effort was part of 1,230 barriers installed at airports nationwide in areas where TSA employees engage with travelers.

The TSA also installed Credential Authentication Technology units at McCarran that allow travelers to insert their photo ID, reducing the need to hand it to a TSA officer.

All TSA officers are required to wear surgical or N95 masks and nitrile gloves. Those who work in close contact with travelers also are required to wear eye protection, Dankers said.

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter. Send questions and comments to roadwarrior@reviewjournal.com.

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