Delta Air Lines’ CEO has asked the head of the CDC to reduce its quarantine guidelines for fully vaccinated people who experience breakthrough COVID-19 infections. Interestingly, the request doesn’t focus on travelers but instead cites the current guidelines’ impact on Delta’s workforce.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, anyone who tests positive for COVID-19, regardless of vaccination status, must isolate for 10 days.
Ed Bastian, Delta’s CEO, and Dr. Henry Ting, the air carrier’s chief health officer and a medical adviser, wrote a letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky asking that the agency’s recommended quarantine period for anyone who tests positive with a breakthrough COVID-19 infection be reduced to five days from the current 10, according to Reuters, which saw a copy of the letter. The two also suggested that individuals could end isolation after receiving appropriate testing results.
“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,” Bastian and Dr. Ting wrote. “Similar to healthcare, police, fire, and public transportation workforces, the Omicron surge may exacerbate labor shortages and create significant disruptions.”
The Current Situation
Omicron, the rapidly spreading COVID-19 variant, has become the dominant COVID-19 strain in the U.S. Earlier this week, the CDC announced that omicron represents 73 percent of new sequenced COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
In the week ending on December 11, the delta variant represented 87 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., while omicron represented 12.6 percent of the cases. For the week ending December 18, however, those numbers flipped; the delta variant was responsible for 26.6 percent of the cases with omicron representing the remainder of the cases.
According to CDC data, only 61.4 percent of the eligible U.S. population is fully vaccinated for COVID-19. And in what many health officials say is troubling, just 30.4 percent of the U.S. population has received a COVID-19 booster despite the vaccine being widely available.
The number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continues to rise. Earlier this week, the nation averaged 139,764 new cases each day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That number is up 16 percent over the average daily case count from a week ago.
In his letter to the CDC director, Delta’s CEO pointed out that “more than 90 percent of Delta’s workforce is fully vaccinated, and those rates are increasing daily.” Bastian also noted that, following the federal mandate, “all airline personnel are required to wear a mask at airports and on airplanes.”
The reason for the suggested change is that the current CDC guidelines are outdated, Bastian argues in the letter. After all, he notes, that guidance was developed in 2020 “when the pandemic was in a different phase without effective vaccines and treatments.”
“As part of this policy change,” Bastian continued, “Delta would be interested to partner with CDC and collect empirical data.”
Delta’s willingness to help collect empirical data isn’t surprising either.
A peer-reviewed study by the Mayo Clinic and the Georgia Department of Health based on data collected by Delta Air Lines found that the risk of contracting COVID-19 on an airplane is extremely unlikely when all passengers on the flight tested negative for the virus 72 hours before departure. You can read more about that study here.
A Timely Request
Delta’s request to the CDC comes at the same time White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci announced U.S. health authorities are considering revising the CDC’s guidance.
Earlier this week, Dr. Fauci told CNN that the CDC is considering changing its isolation length recommendations for fully vaccinated people — particularly health care workers — who test positive for COVID-19 but don’t have symptoms. Revising the quarantine requirement from 10 days to five will help asymptomatic people return to work or school, Dr. Fauci explained.
“For example, if you get a health care worker who is infected and without any symptoms at all, you don’t want to keep that person out of work too very long, particularly if we get a run on hospital beds and an increased need for healthcare personnel,” Fauci said. “That’s something that is being considered.”
The next day, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the agency is indeed studying data to determine whether or not the CDC’s current COVID-19 isolation guidelines may be revised.
“We’re actively examining those data now and doing some modeling analyses to assess any possible changes,” Dr. Walensky told CBS Mornings. “We anticipate that we’ll have some updates soon.”
As the omicron strain of COVID-19 becomes more prevalent, travel advice and restrictions are changing often. Be sure to read all of our travel news coverage to stay up to date. That coverage includes: