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Tampa International is first airport in U.S. to offer Covid-19 tests to all passengers

Anxiety surrounding travel safety has lingered since the start of the pandemic, with passenger traffic down 68 percent from the same time last year, one trade group said.
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TAMPA, Fla. — In the hopes of winning back passenger confidence, Tampa International Airport will be the first airport in the nation to offer voluntary Covid-19 testing for all incoming and outgoing flyers.

The airport has set up testing sites within its main terminal and while the sites officially open on Thursday, some passengers have already begun taking the two tests available for purchase as part of a soft opening.

Before boarding or after landing, travelers can get a $57 antigen test with an 88 percent accuracy that gives results within 15 minutes, or a $125 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test that has 95 percent accuracy but takes 48 hours to deliver results.

Departing passengers who test positive for the antigen would be advised not to board.

Jeff Gonzales, a physician traveling to Colorado from Tampa, opted for the rapid test.

“I'm going to do it so that I know that I'm negative, so that I can be comfortable walking around other people without infecting them,” he said, adding that he wished all travelers would get tested.

“I think having the test done and showing negativity is really what's important as we try to get people involved in sort of group settings like airline travel.”

IMAGE: Tampa International Airport
Baggage claim belts are deserted at the Tampa International Airport on April 24.Chris O'Meara / AP file

Anxiety surrounding travel safety has lingered since the start of the pandemic, which has hit the airline industry especially hard. According to trade organization Airlines for America, passenger traffic is down 68 percent from the same time last year.

This year, airports were given $10 billion in economic assistance, according to the Department of Transportation.

“We got to try to get out of this hole. Anything we can do to get out of this hole safely is what we should do,” said Tampa International Airport CEO Joe Lopano. Passenger volume was down 63 percent from last year at the airport, according to Airlines for America.

Despite the testing, several uncertainties remain, including that the test would not be able to detect an exposure to the coronavirus on a flight because the incubation period is longer than the few hours most travelers are in the air.

But Tampa International hopes offering on-site Covid-19 tests will alleviate some passenger fears which, in turn, will boost travel.

"It's a lovely addition to the trip to be able to get it [and] know that I'm good to go," said Mary Jane Matheny who was flying from Tampa to Utah with her husband. She also felt the airport testing site was convenient because she can now travel to places that require testing and have the results in hand.

“I would like to know the results. You know I'm all for the testing to find out if I'm exposing others to it or not,” Matheny said, who also took the rapid test. “Now I'll have an answer, so it's great.”

Kerry Sanders reported from Tampa, and Safia Samee Ali from Chicago.