Delta Air Lines’ CEO is asking the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to consider cutting down its recommended isolation period for vaccinated patients who catch COVID-19. Right now, the CDC recommends a stretch of at least 10 days after a person’s symptoms first begin. Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian is asking the Centre to cut that down to five.
“At Delta, over 90% of our workforce are fully vaccinated, and those rates are increasing daily,” Bastian wrote on Tuesday in an open letter that was co-signed by the Chief Health Officer and medical advisor for the travel brand.
“Our employees represent an essential workforce to enable Americans who need to travel domestically and internationally. With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the 10-day isolation for those who are fully vaccinated may significantly impact our workforce and operations,” the letter goes on. “Similar to healthcare, police, fire, and public transportation workforces, the Omicron surge may exacerbate shortages and create significant disruptions.”
Delta executives are hardly the only folks worried about these “disruptions.” When surveyed in the past, people who’ve been hesitant to get tested for COVID-19 have cited a fear of lost work to be among one of the chief reasons to shy away from these tests. After all, a mandatory 10-day isolation period means some of those who test positive are staring down close to two weeks without working. In some cases, that means 10 days with reduced or no pay. For gig workers or those who faced tenuous employment situations even before the pandemic, a 10-day isolation period might mean losing their job entirely.
That’s not to say Delta’s ask for a shorter quarantine is entirely driven by goodwill for its employees. Airlines are in the business of travel, and the ongoing pandemic has had a nasty effect of souring people’s travel plans, which leads to tanking profits for those organisations. One recent report from the International Air Transport Association predicted that gross losses for the airline industry over the past two years are set to blow past $US200 ($278) billion. That’s nine years’ worth of profit, just… gone.
With that in mind, it’s not surprising that the leads of some major airlines have been pushing for a return to some semblance of pre-pandemic norms. Earlier this month, the CEOs of both Southwest and American Airlines suggested that fliers didn’t need to wear masks on board, due to the high-quality HEPA air filters featured on most modern aircraft.
White House medical advisor Anthony Fauci shot down that idea soon after. When asked about in-flight mask-wearing in an ABC interview, Fauci remarked that “even though [modern airlines] have a good filtration system, I still believe that masks are a prudent thing to do, and we should be doing it.”
Health officials are taking a hardline approach to mask-wearing, but the 10-day isolation period might have some wiggle room. The day after Delta sent out its open letter, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in an interview that the agency is actively combing over available data to see if it could ease up on some of those guidelines.
“We’re actively examining those data now and doing some modelling analyses to assess that. And we anticipate that we’ll have some updates soon,” Walensky said.
“But I want to highlight one important piece, and that is people are talking about the plane rides and the train rides,” she went on. “That’s actually not where the real challenge is. How safe your holiday is, is really about how safe you are in the time leading up to the holiday.”