Staff COVID cases prompt closure of San Diego Passport Agency

Local

SAN DIEGO — San Diegans seeking passports are seeing more delays after multiple COVID-19 cases among staff at the passport agency downtown.

A U.S. Department of State spokesperson confirmed the COVID-19 cases to FOX 5 in an email Friday morning, saying the San Diego Passport Agency at 1 Columbia Place, 401 West A Street, is closed from Aug. 5-11.

The agency said applicants with appointments affected by the closure will be contacted by phone and rescheduled for a later date.

Americans seeking passports have already seen major delays in processing as U.S. passport offices have been overwhelmed by people ready to travel again after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted.

The demand has pushed wait times to 12-18 weeks to receive a passport or renew, according to the state department, and expedited appointments at understaffed passport offices can take up to 12 weeks.

The state department said a backlog of 1.5 million to 2 million passport requests means most applications submitted now probably will not be processed until the fall. The department is encouraging citizens to apply well in advance of any anticipated travel.

Meanwhile, San Diego State University offers a walk-up center with wait times less than an hour. Having only been open for about a year, residents can receive both their passport book and passport card there — the card is used more for crossing into Mexico and Canada while the passport book is for overseas travel.

After a year of COVID-19 and as the vaccines rolled out, travel spiked a couple months ago and people started to feel comfortable flying again, which has caused a major backlog at the passport center where two million applications are still waiting to be processed.

People like Debbie Doucette, who has a trip planned in a couple months, said her passport expired last year and waited to get it renewed.

“The first year I said, ‘Oh I don’t really need it,’ and then I was like, ‘Oh man, I do,'” she said. “So now I’m hustling, trying to see if I can get it within the few weeks.”

Tanya Vu, passport coordinator at SDSU, said the U.S. Department of State is really backed up right now.

“It might take longer for you to receive your passport, but if you are planning to travel in say spring, you should get your passport now,” Vu said.

If residents want a passport in 12 weeks, they have to be willing to pay a $60 expedited fee, according to the U.S. Department of State. Active military members or those in an emergency situation may also be able to jump to the front of the line.

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