In a first for U.S. airports, the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is piloting rapid coronavirus testing for flight crews and terminal employees.
The goal is to eventually scale the program up and allow passengers to get tested as well, but figuring out how to accommodate potentially thousands of tests per day could be a challenge.
"The thing that we're looking to get out of this is scalability," Doug Yakel, public information officer for SFO, told Cheddar. "Although initially this program is designed just for employees at the airport, we want to take some of the lessons that we learned here and think about applying them to a larger audience, namely passengers."
The hope is that rapid testing will allow the beleaguered airline industry to embrace a new post-COVID reality.
"If you think about the way air travel is changing, there's a new normal that's emerging," Yakel said. "We envision that some sort of health certification is going to be a part of that."
The way it works now is that employees register and then visit a designated testing site within the terminal. Once they're tested using a nasal swab, they wait in a set area until the results arrive — sometimes as quickly as 15 minutes.
Yakel said the goal is for employees to come to the testing location and know their status before they leave the premises.
Currently, employees can pay for the test through their insurance, or their employers can pre-purchase a block of tests for a set number of workers.
The airport is currently testing fewer than 50 people per day but plans to scale up quickly.
"We think we have the capacity for several hundred a day, but obviously if you introduce a much larger audience you need the facilities, you need the personnel, you need everything that goes with it to scale it up, but we're off to a good start," Yakel said.
For now, SFO has not a set timeline for opening the testing site to passengers.