DoD Starts Random COVID-19 Testing on Patriot Express Passengers

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Crew members prepare an aircraft for a flight of the Patriot Express service from Aviano Air Base, Italy
Crew members prepare an aircraft for a flight of the Patriot Express service from Aviano Air Base, Italy, on April 4, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Rebeccah Woodrow)

The military has begun random COVID-19 testing for troops and contractors flying Patriot Express for official duty to overseas locations.

Since the onset of the pandemic, all passengers flying from Baltimore/Washington and Seattle-Tacoma International Airports on Defense Department charters have had to complete a pre-travel questionnaire and on-site temperature checks.

Now, roughly 10% to 15% of those passengers will be subject to rapid on-site testing, the Air Force announced Sunday.

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"By implementing rapid, on-site testing for Patriot Express passengers at our BWI and SEATAC terminals, Air Mobility Command is establishing a common baseline across the services to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19," said Brig. Gen. Norman West, the command's surgeon general, in a news release. AMC oversees the charter flights.

"Through our total force team, AMC is committed to doing everything in our power to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among our Patriot Express passengers traveling to overseas locations," West said.

The tests will be administered only to service members, not accompanying family members, and will be noted in troops' health records, according to the announcement.

However, should a service member traveling with family test positive, the entire family will need to consult with a travel liaison, who will instruct them on follow-on "medical care and lodging during a prescribed isolation period," according to the release.

Those who test positive and are traveling with family will be subject to a 14-day isolation period, and each family member will be provided their own room. Those traveling alone will need to isolate for 10 days minimum, the service said. Travel time for those on permanent change-of-station orders will be extended as a result, and will not adversely affect their duty.

Contractors may also be tested. If they receive a positive result, they should contact their employer for further instruction.

"Any passenger with a valid COVID test completed within 72 hours of the Patriot Express flight will not be required to complete a rapid, on-site COVID test at the [Aerial Port of Embarkation] prior to boarding," the release states. "Army personnel possessing an authorized medical clearance letter will also be exempt from testing."

The tests will be conducted using the Food and Drug Administration-approved Abbott Laboratories' ID Now test, the Air Force said.

According to the lab, the ID Now test uses a swab sample combined with a chemical solution in a portable molecule machine that can process the results in as little as five minutes. Passengers should expect to receive their results in approximately 15 minutes and, once cleared, can continue with the check-in and boarding process.

Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, medical and planning personnel will oversee those traveling from Baltimore, while personnel from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, will manage passengers traveling from Seattle. Personnel will periodically check in on those who receive a positive test and need to further self-isolate. Service members will not receive a secondary COVID-19 test once the isolation period expires, the Air Force said.

"Passengers PCSing will be afforded the full flat-rate per diem to minimize out-of-pocket costs, to include the cost of a second room for passengers with families," the release said. AMC was not immediately able to provide further details whether the rates would apply to third or fourth rooms.

"Those on deployment orders will be afforded the full local per diem rate," the release said.

AMC did not provide a timeline for how long it will conduct the testing.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214.

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