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Many U.S. airlines including American, Southwest, United, Delta, Alaska, Frontier and JetBlue have announced passengers must wear masks while flying.

USA TODAY

The Transportation Security Administration Thursday announced it will require employees to wear facial protection at security checkpoints, the latest move to heighten safety standards to protect against COVID-19.

The press release announcing the decision also encourages passengers to wear facial protection at screening areas as a way to combat the spread of coronavirus.

As a health measure, many airlines, including American, United, Delta, Southwest, Alaska, Frontier, JetBlue and Spirit, have announced plans to make face masks mandatory for passengers.

The employee facial-protection requirement will be implemented in the coming days, according to a TSA press release, which describes the action as “an additional measure to help minimize spread of COVID-19 and help raise the overall health and safety level inside the airport environment.” Agency personnel will be provided with masks.

“TSA is making this change to protect our employees and travelers as social distancing cannot always be maintained in the screening process.” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said in an accompanying statement.

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TSA employees have felt the pain of COVID-19. The agency reported 534 federal employees testing positive, with 285 having recovered, as of Thursday. Six employees have died, along with one screening contractor. 

Airline executives also are pushing the agency to beef up protections against the dangerous virus. In an interview with “CBS This Morning” Wednesday, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly pushed for the TSA to conduct passenger temperature scans during screening. Frontier Airlines announced it will require passengers to undergo temperature checks starting June 1.

Mask rules: Spirit will require passengers to wear face masks amid pandemic; 3 airlines mandate them Monday

In the release, the TSA also explains that protective eyewear is voluntary for TSA personnel working in screening areas. 

The TSA is encouraging passengers to wear facial protection, but says individuals may be asked to lower that covering for identity verification or if it sets off a screening-equipment alarm.

The agency, which is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is considering other screening changes to minimize risk and limit physical interactions at security checkpoints. People can learn more about adjustments that have been made at security checkpoints at the TSA website and get prevention guidance while traveling from the CDC.

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