PBI Could Offer Travelers On-Site COVID-19 Testing by Early Next Year

Dec. 8, 2020

Palm Beach International Airport could offer its passengers and employees the ability to get a COVID-19 test within the travel hub by early next year.

Airport officials are accepting proposals from prospective providers who can operate an on-site coronavirus testing center. One may be chosen in the first few weeks of February, spokeswoman Lacy Larson said.

Any COVID-19 test offered at the West Palm Beach airport would be voluntary and “more than likely” come with a fee, she added.

More: COVID keeping Canadian tourists away from Palm Beach County this winter

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport will open its own on-site coronavirus testing center Wednesday, in partnership with Utah-based Nomi Health.

Passengers with proof of travel can take a 30-minute rapid antigen test for $69, or a more accurate PCR test for $99. If a PCR test is administered before 4 p.m., results will be ready the next day; otherwise, there’s a 48-hour turnaround time.

Travelers can bill their insurance for reimbursement, and can be tested at the airport in the days leading up to their travel or after they disembark from a plane.

More: Coronavirus in Florida: PBIA passenger ‘positive’ for illness, authorities say

“As a general rule, the more testing sites anywhere, the better,” said Dr. David Dodson, a West Palm Beach-based infectious disease specialist.

Dodson said people should be avoiding travel as much as possible, but if they do, he advises they be tested beforehand.

More: Coronavirus in Florida: Worker at PBIA tower tests positive

“Right now, travel is a very dicey proposition. People should think twice before they travel,” he said. “If we move toward a place where everybody’s tested before they get on a flight, that would help.”

A COVID-19 test administered at the airport would really only be useful if a traveler knows the result before they get on a plane, added Dr. Larry Bush, who headed Palm Beach County’s vaccine trial.

More: PBIA, county airports to receive $37M in federal aid

“If you didn’t plan it in time to get a result, a test without a result is not a test,” he said.

If a traveler takes a COVID-19 test immediately following debarkation, "it's a little late," Bush said. Even worse if the traveler doesn't get their results until days later, potentially spreading the virus wherever they go in addition to fellow passengers.

"I think it's OK pre-travel. I think post-travel, you're starting behind," Bush said.

It’s also important for travelers to be cautious about a negative result, based on the type of test administered. Not only does any test result show a snapshot in time, but antigen tests are more prone to show a false negative, Dodson said.

More: Coronavirus in Florida: Health officials start screening at PBIA

Both antigen and PCR tests, though, are good at detecting the presence of COVID-19 in a person’s system, Bush noted.

“You don’t want to give someone a false sense of security,” he said.

Miami International Airport doesn't have an on-site COVID-19 testing center, nor does it plan to.

Officials want to ”avoid passengers testing positive at the airport and then potentially trying to move forward with their travel plans anyway,” said Greg Chin, spokesman for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department.

Instead, the airport will follow recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggesting passengers get tested between one and three days before their travel date to “avoid the inconvenience of rescheduling or canceling their travel plans at the airport if they receive a positive test result.”

Tampa International Airport became the first in the country to open an on-site coronavirus testing center in October.

“It’s a great option to have for travelers, especially as we go through the holiday season,” said Vjollca Hysenlika, spokeswoman for BayCare Health System, which partnered with Tampa International. “This gives people peace of mind.”

A negative COVID-test could spare travelers to states like Massachusetts from spending two weeks in mandated quarantine.

More: COVID-19 travel restrictions by state: What you need to know before you travel

The Tampa site administered more than 8,400 tests in nearly two months since it opened Oct. 1, airport spokeswoman Veronica Cintron said. Fewer than 2% tested positive.

Hysenlika noted that the local health department is notified of any positive test result for contact tracing efforts. BayCare “highly recommends” that COVID-positive travelers quarantine and don’t travel until they test negative.

"If we could test people and if they happen to turn positive and they don’t get on the plane, that means we have helped" further prevent the spread of the virus, she said.

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This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: PBIA could offer travelers on-site COVID-19 testing by early next year


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