How the Pandemic Has Affected Passports, Global Entry, T.S.A. PreCheck and More

After three months of travel at a near-standstill, restrictions are slowly lifting and travelers are venturing out again. On Sunday, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 544,000 people, a daily record since traveler numbers plummeted in late March.

However, disruptions caused by the pandemic go beyond just airports and travel bans.

Nearly two million Americans in need of passports are facing severe delays because of processing center closures. People applying for security-expediting services like T.S.A. PreCheck or Global Entry may have had their interviews canceled for similar reasons.

Here’s what to expect when applying for travel documents and membership in security-expediting programs.

A backlog of 1.7 million passports has piled up since the State Department shut down most of its consular services to protect its workers on March 19, officials confirmed last week.

Fourteen passport processing centers have reopened for limited service as of Monday, June 15. Pending applications will be addressed on a first in, first out basis, beginning with the oldest applications received — some going back as far as February.

Officials have said they hope to process about 200,000 applications each week, but that it could take up to eight weeks — before even starting on the new applications — to cut through the backlog.

That means if you’re applying for a passport now, you should expect delays of at least two months, if not three or more.

Unfortunately, expedited services, barring life-or-death circumstances, have been suspended until the final phase of reopening the passport offices (no timeline has been announced for this).

If you’re considering using the services of a private expediting company, remember that they charge additional fees and cannot help you get your passport faster than if you apply in person at a passport agency.

Global Entry is a program run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection that lets preapproved members skip customs lines when returning to the United States from abroad. For a $100 application fee, a Global Entry membership is good for five years and includes T.S.A. PreCheck. Global Entry is one of the C.B.P.’s Trusted Traveler Programs, which includes NEXUS, SENTRI and other expedited-entry programs.

Enrollment centers for Trusted Traveler Programs, including those that process Global Entry applications, have suspended operations until at least July 6. You can apply for conditional approval for Global Entry via the website, but will be unable to schedule an interview until after July 6.

Officials advise that the fastest way to get Global Entry now is to apply for conditional approval online and complete the enrollment process upon arrival from abroad at a participating airport. You won’t need to pre-schedule an interview for this.

Conditional approval can currently take between 15 days to more than five months. If you do decide to book an interview after July 6, know that demand will be high and there may be long wait times to get an appointment.

Global Entry applicants who are conditionally approved have a year to complete an interview for their enrollment. The C.B.P. recently extended this grace period to 485 days. Members who apply for renewal before their expiration is up will have an 18-month extension to their benefits, instead of the usual six months.

New Yorkers are still not eligible to apply for or renew Global Entry membership, because of a freeze by the Trump administration earlier this year.

While T.S.A. PreCheck is included in Global Entry, it is $15 cheaper to get the membership on its own, and the application process is generally faster. Run by the Transportation Security Administration, PreCheck breezes you through airport security. You will not need to remove your shoes, belt or laptop. Membership costs $85 for five years.

Some enrollment centers have closed or modified their hours during the pandemic, although most are open. If your interview appointment is canceled, you’ll be notified and given a chance to rebook.

T.S.A. officials recommend making an appointment rather than walking into an enrollment center, so you can know ahead of time of any disruptions and so the center can manage social distancing.

Officials said the pandemic has not caused a backlog or delays in processing, and that the approval process should take about two to three weeks.

At some airports, PreCheck lanes may be temporarily closed because of low passenger numbers.

If you are a PreCheck member not making use of your membership because you’re not traveling, the T.S.A. isn’t currently offering refunds or extensions.

  • Updated June 16, 2020

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

Clear is a private company that allows its members to scan their fingerprints or irises at a designated pod to bypass ID-check lines and get to security screening faster.

At $179 a year, some members may feel they are not getting their money’s worth on a premium service while they can’t travel. To address this, Clear is offering a free three-month extension for current members and also allowing a three-month pause option.

There has been no disruption to processing memberships, which can be done on-the-spot at a designated Clear pod within participating airports, a Clear spokeswoman said.

Some Clear lanes may be temporarily closed at the discretion of the airports.

You’re not the only one wondering what this is. According to a 2019 survey, most Americans did not have or were confused about Real ID — even though it will soon be a mandatory document in order to pass through security for domestic flights.

As one response to the 9/11 terror attacks, Congress passed the Real ID Act in 2005. The act was intended to protect national security by establishing a federal standard for issuing driver’s licenses and I.D. cards. Basically, it was created to put a stop to the proliferation of fake I.D.s. Real ID-compliant driver’s licenses will be identified by a gold star in the top-right corner.

Because of the pandemic, the enforcement deadline of Oct. 1, 2020 was extended a year to Oct. 1, 2021. The virus is the latest setback in a long and troubled rollout.

Adding to the confusion is that states issue driver’s licenses, not the federal government. You will need to go to your state’s motor vehicles department to get a Real ID. As many D.M.V. offices throughout the country are currently closed or offering limited services during the pandemic, Real ID will be unavailable until in-person services have resumed in your state.

Source Article