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Chicago and Miami Latest Airports to join CDC’s Nasal Swabbing Program


Six airports currently participate in the volunteer COVID detection tests.

© Rudzhan - stock.adobe.com

covid test passport © Rudzhan - stock.adobe.com

Over 1 billion travelers visit U.S. airports every year. For this reason, airline passengers are one of the most important populations to consider when it comes to identifying and tracking COVID and other pathogens.

The Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance Program (TGS), which is led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Travelers’ Health Branch has been collecting nasal swabs from international travelers since 2021. It currently operates at six airports in the U.S.

The CDC announced Tuesday that it will be adding Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Miami International Airport to its list of locations that participate in the program.

International travelers who wish to participate can stop at a testing station after their flight to self-administer a nasal swab and complete an anonymous, short survey about their trip. Samples are then sent to a laboratory where they undergo genome sequencing to detect COVID variants and other respiratory pathogens.

The program currently operates at six U.S. airports:

  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
  • San Francisco International Airport
  • Los Angeles International Airport
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport
  • Newark Liberty International Airport
  • Dulles International Airport

Since it launched in Sept. 2021, TGS has enrolled roughly 300,000 travelers per year from over 135 countries.

In addition to nasal swabs, the CDC has also been collecting wastewater from airplanes since Aug. 2022. At Dulles International Airport, samples are taken directly from the plane. At Boston Logan International Airport and JFK, samples are collected from the airport triturator, which is the wastewater collection point for multiple aircraft.

The CDC says that wastewater collection is a low-cost method that removes the need to interact with travelers who are potentially carrying pathogens.

Overall, TGS has been an effective early warning system and was able to detect multiple Omicron variants up to six weeks before other agencies in the U.S.

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