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TSA deals with possible worker shortage, extended mask mandate as holidays approach

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 8:53 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) -The nation’s airports, including Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, are preparing for the upcoming holiday travel seasons.

This year could be a bit more challenging.

“We are building contingency plans for if we do have some staffing issues as a result of this,” said David Pekoske of the Transportation Security Administration.

The administration and other federal agencies have until Nov. 22 to make sure all their employees are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Roughly 40% of the TSA workforce remains unvaccinated, according to Pekoske.

“We have about 60 percent of our workforce has been vaccinated, that that number needs to go quite a bit higher over the next few weeks,” Pekoske told CNN back on Oct. 13.

The Nov. 22 deadline could pose problems for travelers. The date falls on a Monday this year, which happens to be the Monday before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel times of the year.

Passengers will also need to deal with an extended mask mandate. The security administration’s mandate was extended to Jan. 18, 2022, after the initial deadline of Sept. 13, 2021, was pushed back in late August of this year. The September deadline was set on the last day of April of this year. The original requirement in 2021 took hold Feb. 1, and was set to remain in place until May 11.

“I don’t think these are going to do anything to protect us with COVID,” said Anchorage’s Arnold Simon. “But I don’t think it’s necessary to be in the masks anymore for how long we’ve been dealing with this.”

“I wear my mask, long before I was vaccinated I wore my mask,” added Marilyn Wellington, who flew to Alaska to visit family. “I travel every other month, and I feel like my mask had a great deal to do with me being COVID-free.”

Travelers under the age of two and those with certain disabilities are exempt from the mask mandate. First-time violators will be fined $250 for the first offense, and up to $1,500 for each time after that.

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