Sea-Tac Airport is wide-open during a pandemic.
Sea-Tac Airport is wide-open during a pandemic. Charles Mudede

Reopening the economy has not worked at all. The governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, finally admitted he failed to beat COVID-19 by the power of closing his eyes, and on June 30 closed "bars, gyms, movie theaters and other businesses for 30 days." Other states have reimposed restrictions on non-essential businesses. We can expect more states to put the brakes on and reverse phased openings. This is inevitable. Coronavirus, regrettably, has a reality that is far greater than that of the American dream.

But just as a number of US states are coming to terms with this reality, the airline industry has decided to fly its planes around the country like it is 2019, apparently a very good year for the industry. American Airlines plans to begin filling planes on July 1 for no other reason than it has decided to believe "social distancing isn’t possible on planes anyways."

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield is not of this opinion. For one, it sends the wrong message to a public that has been inundated with mixed messages about the state of the pandemic and the dangers of the virus.

But it seems the airline market is free to believe what it wants to believe. If an airline company decides to make profits right now and not wait for the pandemic to subside, no one in power, it seems, can stop it from doing so. As a consequence, we can expect a flood of packed planes at Sea-Tac International Airport, which has done very little of anything to track and monitor state-to-state arrivals.

On June 23, Perry Cooper, the Media Relations Manager for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, told me the following:

The Port’s Executive Director mentioned today as part of the temperature check initiative, we did do some testing of equipment last week for temperatures on a voluntary basis for arriving international passengers. That’s where the equipment testing occurred, in international arrivals. I think we’ve also mentioned to you and noted in Commission meetings, the Port has expressed being in favor of a federal agency to manage a potential temp program.

From a state to state standpoint, I believe that restriction would have to come from the Gov’s office.

As of June 26, Sea-Tac has "been testing equipment but there is not a device out for domestic." They may have something in July? No one seems to have a clear idea of how and when all of this will come together. Sea-Tac is still considering "the logistics, operation, how it works, best practices, what works, what doesn’t, etc."

All of this would be fine if the novel coronavirus also took its own sweet time considering its next moves—which population to hit, which to leave alone, when to work hard, when to rest. As Florida and Texas and Arizona are now learning, the virus has a mind of its own.

This fact (the virus does not care about those cherished American freedoms) is very well understood by the governors of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. They have "doubled the number of states for incoming travelers to undertake a 14-day quarantine."
Eight states have recently been added to the list that now stands at 16, including California, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee.

The other states on that list were announced last Wednesday are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Utah

Today, Sea-Tac expects 17 flights to arrive from Texas alone.

What is our governor doing about the wide-open flows at Sea-Tac? He is apparently waiting for Donald Trump to do something about it. Yes, that Donald Trump.

Inslee's Executive Director of Communications Tara Lee writes:

Like the Port, the governor supports a federal approach to airport screening that should include temperature and symptom checks, among other components. He has called on the Trump administration to implement a national system. Any state-based or regional approach would create unnecessary duplication, leave significant gaps, and fail to ensure the safety of the traveling public.

· We have not yet received a response from HHS or DOT to the governor’s June 15 letter (attached).

· Although we believe a federal system is what’s needed to achieve our public health goals, the governor’s office has begun initial conversations with DOH and WSDOT on developing a state-based approach to travel screening protocols at airports. If the Trump administration fails to act, we are prepared to work collaboratively with the Port and other airports in Washington, as well as airlines, on a state-based approach to ensure the health and safety of Washingtonians from air travel.

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So, nothing much going for now. Though Inslee was quick to beg New York not to put us on the quarantine list.

Well, what about quarantining travellers? The governor could do that without waiting for a godot. Inslee's office: "Quarantines are not on the table right now, but we will continue to monitor the spread of COVID."

If nothing else, the pandemic has shown the public how very hard it is for our elected leaders to make any kind of socially significant decision without worrying about, considering at length, and finding ways to make concessions to what is always locked in the short-term, the business interest.

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