Orlando airport executive provides clarity after governor’s COVID-19 statement on airport workers

GOAA CEO Phil Brown says not all 260 people are airport workers, contrary to governor's statement

ORLANDO, Fla. – Chief Executive Phil Brown released a statement Wednesday saying the governor’s statement that 260 workers tested positive for COVID-19 at Orlando International Airport is incorrect.

In a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the workers tested positive for the coronavirus after nearly 500 employees were tested.

“(An) airport in Central Florida had a couple of cases. They did the contract tracing. They looked (at) almost 500 workers (and) 260 people working close together were positive, (a) 52 percent positivity rate on that one,” DeSantis said.

[RELATED: 260 workers test positive for COVID-19 at Orlando International Airport, governor says]

According to Brown’s statement, of the 500 airport workers who were tested for coronavirus, only two had positive results. Brown said those 500 workers were tested within a three-day period.

“In discussion with Dr. Raul Pino, the public health director for Orange County, it appears that is the extent of the results from those 500 tests. That would calculate to be a 0.4% positivity rate for COVID-19 for those 500 tests,” Brown’s statement said.

To provide clarity to the figures presented by DeSantis, Brown also addressed the overall number of workers who tested positive.

Between mid-March and through June 6, there were 132 employees of all the airlines, rental car companies, the Transportation Security Administration and the Aviation Authority that tested positive, according to the statement.

Another 128 people who tested positive were not airport employees but were traceable connections to the workers who tested positive for COVID-19, according to Pino and his public health team, according to Brown.

For clarification, the two figures together mean 260 people who tested positive for COVID-19 had some connection to OIA, whether they were a visitor, a traveler or a worker.

“To put it in perspective, the 132 airport employees represent 0.6% of the estimated 22,000 badged employees that work at MCO and those infections occurred over a period of roughly 2.5 months,” Brown said in his statement, disputing the governor’s comments.

“I hope this information clarifies what can be a confusing mix of data for the traveling public. We continue to work with all of our health department officials to ensure all is being done to keep the traveling public and our employees safe at Orlando International Airport,” he said.

Brown said GOAA officials were “in discussion with the press office with the Governor, they have issued some clarification.”

The Florida Department of Health also provided a further explanation for the numbers Wednesday afternoon.

“The number of cases at Orlando International Airport is cumulative from March 2020 and includes household close contacts as determined through the extensive epidemiological investigations conducted by the Department of Health.

“These cases were all identified from and associated with positive COVID-19 cases linked to the airport. Through collaboration with airport and local authorities and thorough efforts in contact tracing, all the cases were linked and notified.

“Last week, the Florida Department of Health in Orange County (DOH-Orange) conducted 500 tests. Only two came back positive and held no risk of exposure to others. DOH-Orange has been active in monitoring and investigating every case at the airport and will continue to ensure the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance and protocols are followed closely,” the statement read.

The governor’s office has also since walked back the claims DeSantis made on Tuesday.

“Governor DeSantis has emphasized the benefit of testing for COVID-19 and contact tracing throughout the state. MCO had 132 employees test positive for COVID-19. Through contact tracing of those employees, an additional 128 individuals not associated with the airport tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in 260 total positive cases. We appreciate MCO’s commitment to working with the Orange County Health Department, the Florida Department of Health and for ensuring best practices are followed for the health and safety of all employees and visitors to the airport,” communications director Helen Ferre said Wednesday afternoon.

On Wednesday, the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority approved a new policy requiring all 22,000 airport employees to wear facial coverings in public areas of the airport.

The new policy applied to all employees who have a security badge from the Orlando Greater Aviation Authority.

Brown said employees will wear masks and need to observe social distancing “to extent that they can.”