CORONAVIRUS

Mandatory health screenings proposed for Eastern Iowa Airport

Mask requirement 'likely' as airport seeks to protect passengers

The check-in and bag drop counter is seen at Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids in April. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
The check-in and bag drop counter is seen at Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids in April. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Eastern Iowa Airport proposed mandatory, preflight medical screenings for all passengers Thursday morning in an effort to avoid spread of coronavirus at the airport.

If it’s approved at the July 27 commission meeting, airport Director Marty Lenss said he aims to have the plan “fully operational” by early September, with possible phases implemented earlier.

“If you’re truly sick, we don’t want to expose any passengers unnecessarily,” Lenss told The Gazette. “We hope people appreciate that.”

All passengers would go through a primary health screening involving a temperature check and questions about any coronavirus symptoms or exposure to people who tested positive for coronavirus.

Tim Sagers, a doctor at Mercy Medical Center, said he expects 99 percent of passengers to pass this checkpoint, which should take 10 seconds per person.

If a passenger does not clear the primary checkpoint, a secondary checkpoint will involve a second temperature check and further health questions to determine if there’s another cause for the fever. Sagers anticipates that taking up to 15 minutes.

“If somebody, for example, has a high temp, but it’s an ear infection, the secondary screening will be able to diagnose that and still allow that traveler to continue,” Lenss said.

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“Those who are truly sick (with coronavirus) and shouldn’t travel, those are the ones we’re trying to find.”

Sagers said the secondary process still will put most of the passengers who failed the first screening on their flights.

“We’re not trying to keep a bunch of people off the aircraft,” Sagers said. “We just want to make sure the right people are on the aircraft.”

A nurse from Mercy Medical will be stationed at the secondary checkpoint, with a telehealth appointment with a physician from Mercy Cedar Rapids available if necessary.

While a mask requirement was not part of the plan proposed Thursday, Lenss said that is “likely” to be included. Federal guidance from the U.S. Departments of Transportation, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services includes a requirement for face coverings.

The Cedar Rapids airport is incurring all costs of the medical screenings, with money from the federal CARES Act.

Lenss said the cost will be about $175 per hour for the screenings, with $120,000 to $125,000 to set up the physical and IT infrastructure necessary.

That includes a private exam room next to the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint for the secondary health screening.

Eastern Iowa Airport has funding for a full year of health screenings.

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“I hope that it is just temporary,” Lenss said. “After the first year, we’ll be re-evaluating where things are at.”

Lenss said airport staff has been working on a plan for health screenings since late March. Then Mercy Medical “put a lot of meat on the bone” to the screening plan.

With the health screenings, Lenss anticipates airlines being able to operate safely again with full capacity.

“You don’t have to block the middle seat at CID,” Lenss said. “That’s very important as part of our recovery efforts.”

The airport has not experienced any reported coronavirus cases yet, an airport spokeswoman said.

The airport commission will have a meeting for public comment on the hearing at 6 p.m., next Thursday at Hotel at Kirkwood Center.

In-person attendance is capped at 40 members due to social-distancing requirements. Others can participate through Zoom.

The next commission meeting, at 7:30 a.m. on July 27, also will be open to public comment ahead of a vote on the plan and partnership with Mercy Medical.

Comments: (319) 398-8394; john.steppe@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.