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Florida Congressional Leaders Call on TSA to Provide More N-95 Masks as Thirteenth Officer Falls Ill

Photo: Suhyeon Choi @by_syeoni
Photo: Suhyeon Choi @by_syeoni

Democratic congressional leaders from Central Florida are calling on the TSA to require officers at the Orlando International Airport to wear masks. 

The request comes in a letter from Representatives Val Demings, Darren Soto, and Stephanie Murphy. 

Murphy says this protective gear would protect Transportation Security Administration officers and the flying public from a heightened risk of exposure to coronavirus.

She says even though it's unclear in some cases where officers contracted the virus, thirteen have already gotten sick.

“I think we have to do everything we can as a community not only to protect our TSA officers as they are deeply valued members of our community, but also to protect the passengers.”

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Soto says these sick workers are not only at risk of medical complications, but he says they won't be able to perform essential functions at airports like Orlando International Airport.

He said he's worried about other types of threats if airports are understaffed.

"We could see a security shortage at a time when our nation is already dealing with one crisis. We don't need to deal with another with greater security concerns in the air."

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Demings says they're not calling on airports to close, but she would like to see more signage up in in the airport and on the website to encourage people to wear face coverings.

"We should wear protective gear, we should have our gloves on, we should have our masks on. We should limit the time we're out and our contact. As long as we practice those safety precautions, I don't believe it's necessary to close the airport down."

In a statement to WMFE, the TSA said the agency remains committed to the health and safety of its workers and has allowed them to voluntarily wear N-95 masks.

"Employees have had the option to wear surgical masks since the beginning of the pandemic, and the use of TSA standard nitrile gloves continues to be mandatory when screening an individual or their property, which adds an additional layer of protection," the statement read.

"There is no shortage of masks on hand – either N95 or surgical – and those are made available to employees for use at work. In addition, there is no shortage of gloves, alcohol, hand sanitizer or wipes for employees’ use while on-duty."

As of Tuesday night, thirteen TSA workers at the airport have tested positive for coronavirus.
If you'd like to listen to the story, click on the clips above.

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter and fill-in host at WMFE.
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