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The Issues Behind Tampa International’s Testing Regulations

By Madeline McCarthy

Starting on October first at eight in the morning, the Tampa International Airport started doing COVID-19 tests for passengers traveling to and from Tampa. The airport is the first in the country to offer rapid testing to all of its travelers.

Two different kinds of tests are being offered. The first is an antigen test that, according to BayCare, is most accurate within the first five days of symptom onset. It gives results on site in about an hour and costs $57. 

The second is the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. It’s more thorough, but must be done three days before travel, and costs $125. On the BayCare website, there is a table that maps out the day you should come in before your travel date in order to get results back in time.

Testing is only offered to travelers coming through TPA. Travelers must bring proof of flight and a credit card for payment; no insurance claims can be processed here. The PCR test requires a nasopharyngeal swab — which is the kind of swab that goes deep into nasal passages — and the antigen test requires a regular, less invasive nasal swab. The testing sites are open every day from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Offering testing to travelers is a great idea in theory. If a traveller is going towards a place with COVID-19 restrictions, a clean test can clear them to visit. Testing negative after landing can give travelers peace of mind if going to visit older, at-risk relatives. And of course, it can prevent the spread of the virus if travelers quarantine after testing positive.

On the other hand, there is nothing preventing a passenger from hopping onto an airplane after it’s confirmed that they’re infected. Although cases have to be reported to the Florida Department of Health, BayCare just states that passengers who test positive are only “highly encouraged to cancel all travel plans.” But again, there is no real mandate to do so. I also doubt that the testing at the airport will be used as much as it should be because of the price.

Florida has relaxed measures against COVID-19, including restaurant and bar restrictions to be lifted, and no fines against people who refuse to wear a mask. Because of this, I’m not surprised that nothing will really happen if a passenger flying through the Tampa Airport tests positive for COVID-19.

I think the best thing to do would be for airlines to offer refunds for those who test positive after entering the airport. No one wants to miss out on hundreds of dollars by not getting on a flight they’ve already paid for. Airplanes are so confined, with recycled air running throughout. An infected passenger could be putting the people around them at risk.

Since there aren’t many airlines who will refund passengers hours before a flight, the best thing you can do personally, if you are able, is to look into an airline that allows you to keep the credit of the flight you had to cancel for a future flight, like Southwest. 

Other than that, make sure you do your due diligence at social distancing and isolation as much as possible before you need to travel. Plan it out before you book. You never know who you’re traveling with and what underlying conditions they might have. 

Testing at the airport is a good start, but it can’t be where COVID-19 prevention stops.

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