Starting Thursday, October 1, Tampa Bay International Airport (TPA) will become the first airport in the United States to offer onsite Covid-19 testing for all passengers.
"As a gateway to the West Coast of Florida with a growing market for international travel, Tampa International Airport has a responsibility to explore safe, rapid and affordable ways to keep our travelers, their destinations and our community as safe and healthy as possible," said the airport's CEO, Joe Lopano.
The airport is partnering with the BayCare Health System to administer the tests, and unlike the testing being done at San Francisco International Airport, anyone flying on any airline may participate (the SFO testing is currently only for passengers going to Hawaii on certain carriers).
Tests will only be available to ticketed passengers who are either arriving at or departing from TPA. But those passengers won't have to take the test the day of their flights. Instead, the airport is allowing for a window of three days, which will enable the service to be used by people heading to destinations that require negative test results upon arrival.
The PCR test that TPA is offering can usually identify the presence of the virus in the body within 48 hours; the airport's testing site has posted a chart (found under "What are the two types of COVID-19 tests being offered?") that suggests how long before a flight passengers should take the test in order to receive results in time.
The airport is also offering speedier antigen tests (with results in an hour), but notes that because these only look at the immune response to the virus and don't reveal the virus itself, they aren't accepted by all destinations as proof of healthiness.
The testing center is located in the main terminal before the security checkpoint and will accept walk-in customers between 8am and 2pm daily. Passengers must show proof that their travel will happen within three days, and payment will be required. The price for 48-hour PCR tests is $125; the less widely accepted antigen tests cost $57 apiece. Flyers whose insurance policies cover the test must apply on their own for reimbursement later.
Sadly, we expect the need for tests to be quite high. Florida is currently seeing a surge in new cases. Yet on September 25, Gov. Ron DeSantis moved the state to Phase 3 of reopening, which nullified local ordinances on mask usage and social distancing, allowing all of the state's businesses, except bars, to open to 100% capacity.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top epidemiologist, warned on Good Morning America earlier this week that Florida's scuttling of safety rules at this moment is ill-advised, calling it "asking for trouble."
You don't have to be an epidemiologist to recognize the dangers in Florida's move. It's tragically appropriate that Tampa will lead the nation in airport testing.
Update, Oct. 2: Bradley International Airport (BDL), located just north of Hartford, Connecticut, has also initiated rapid on-site Covid-19 testing for its passengers. Tests costs $125 and are reimbursable by many insurance plans. Testing is only available for customers with same-day ticketing on flights from airport.