JEFF HIMLER | Thursday, March 5, 2020 1:39 p.m.
Officials at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport are preparing for the potential arrival of coronavirus by offering protective measures to workers and arranging for more intensive cleansing of the terminal building.
As cases of infection with the potentially deadly virus have expanded from China to Europe, the United States and other countries, airport staff are “not ignoring it,” said Gabe Monzo, executive director of the Westmoreland County Airport Authority. “We know it’s an issue, and we’re doing everything within our power, and with an abundance of common sense, to initiate programs to deal with it.”
Health officials have recommended frequent hand-washing with soap and water or use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer as primary measures to prevent spread of the virus. At the Unity airport, Monzo said, hand sanitizer and soap have been provided at work stations for all who interact with the public, including those manning airline ticket and car rental counters.
“We put up more dispensers for sanitizers,” he said. “We’re stocking up as much as we can on sanitizers, within reason. Some of the prices they’re charging now are pretty exorbitant compared to last month. We’re dealing with that issue as best we can, just like everybody else.”
Health authorities have advised people who are not ill to refrain from wearing face masks as an attempt to ward off infection. But, Monzo said, Level I procedure masks — which provide a low barrier of protection — have been made available for airport workers who desire them.
“I’m sure people will feel more comfortable with a mask on,” he said. Airport staff are used to having face masks on hand as a protection against transmission of more common airborne diseases.
Monzo noted that people with compromised immunity face the greatest risk from the coronavirus. He is among them: Monzo’s immune system has been reduced since receiving a live-donor liver transplant in April.
“If it’s going to affect somebody, it’s going to affect me,” he said, “so I’m being a little bit extra-careful on my part.”
As an added protection for all who enter the airport terminal, Monzo said, daytime porters are making an extra effort to wipe down railings and other areas touched by many hands, in addition to keeping rest rooms clean.
“We have a couple different porters throughout the day, instead of just at nighttime when nobody’s here,” Monzo said, “plus we still have the nighttime janitorial staff.”
If the airport staff were to learn that someone infected with the coronavirus was suspected of entering the terminal, arrangements have been made to have the building disinfected by Stratus Building Solutions, a firm that specializes in such services. The cost would depend upon the extent of the work involved, Monzo said.
Dave Erimias, president of the company’s Greater Pittsburgh franchise in Wexford, said other its clients include office buildings and day care centers.
At least one disinfectant sprays it uses is registered by the Environmental Protection Agency for use against the current coronavirus. The company hopes to include additional EPA-approved coronavirus products in its arsenal, Erimias said. He noted the approval process is “still kind of in motion. It’s an emerging virus.”
The EPA on Tuesday issued a list of more than 80 antimicrobial products for use against the coronavirus, noting that the list doesn’t constitute an endorsement and that more products may be added.
If there was advance notice of a coronavirus patient aboard an incoming flight, steps would be taken to keep the person segregated while disembarking from the plane, Monzo said.
“We took some things out of our emergency plan and adapted them to a viral-type infection situation,” he said. “It’s nothing that we can’t adapt to. You hope for the best and plan for the worst.”
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.