CORONAVIRUS

Eastern Iowa Airport health screenings yet to ground any passengers

Antigen testing added to secondary screening process

Smiley Dickens (right) and Joaquin Vega with Pigott Inc. assemble framing for the new passenger health screening cubicle
Smiley Dickens (right) and Joaquin Vega with Pigott Inc. assemble framing for the new passenger health screening cubicle in front of the TSA security checkpoint at The Eastern Iowa Airport in sCedar Rapids on Jan. 18, 2021. For most passengers, the screening will consist of at temperature check. If a passenger does not pass the temperature check, there is a secondary screening. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The Eastern Iowa Airport’s Travel Well health screening program has not blocked any passengers from flying during the first four weeks of the program, airport officials said Monday morning.

Almost 20,000 passengers went through the primary health checkpoint, which consists of a temperature check and a few health questions.

Only 13 needed to go through the secondary health screening with Mercy Medical Center staff to see if there is another cause for their fever or concerns from the health questions. All of the passengers were then cleared to fly.

“We didn’t implement this thinking we were going to catch 10,000 people,” said Marty Lenss, airport director. “That was never the goal.”

The airport commission approved an amendment to the program Monday that adds rapid antigen testing to the secondary screening.

Lenss said the antigen testing will only be used “if the nurse and/or doctor aren’t able to identify an accountable condition.”

The testing will not be available for the general public, Lenss said, and cannot be used as clearance to travel somewhere requiring a negative PCR test, which can more accurately detect the virus.

“It’s not the COVID test you need for your flight to, say, Hawaii,” Lenss said.

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The Eastern Iowa Airport is covering the $40 cost per antigen test. Lenss said he would be surprised if the airport had to spend $2,000 on antigen testing, which would be 50 tests.

“We expect 99 percent of the time that the nurse or the doctor will be able to identify an accountable condition, and the test won’t be needed,” Lenss said.

Airport officials have heard anecdotally about travelers voluntarily rebooking flights, knowing they had COVID-19 symptoms and would be screened at the airport.

“A lot of people are opting out themselves,” Lenss said. “If they’re not feeling well, they’re rebooking before they even get to the airport.”

A survey of passengers indicated 94 percent were more likely to travel through The Eastern Iowa Airport as a result of the screening, Lenss said. About 70 percent said health screenings influenced their decision on where to fly.

“The overall public response has been fantastic,” Lenss said.

The health screenings come as passenger numbers remain well below pre-pandemic levels. The Eastern Iowa Airport had 60.2 percent fewer airplane passengers and 44.7 percent fewer commercial or charter flights in January 2021 than in January 2020.

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

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