Delta to begin contact tracing effort, ask international passengers for contact info

July 22, 2020 Atlanta - Social distancing signs are  displayed as Delta customers wait on Concourse A at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
July 22, 2020 Atlanta - Social distancing signs are displayed as Delta customers wait on Concourse A at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

More than eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines says it is launching the first U.S. airline contact tracing effort for passengers on international flights to this country.

Starting Dec. 15, most international passengers will be asked to voluntarily submit contact information. However, those flying Delta’s Rome-Atlanta route will be required to provide the information as part of a pilot program that launches the same week. In an effort to eliminate quarantine requirements, passengers on that route will be tested for the virus before and after the flight.

Right now, if a passenger tests positive for COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks airlines for a list of all customers to identify those within two seats of the person. That information is transmitted to local health departments for follow-up.

Under the contact tracing program to start later this month, the process will speed up because the CDC already will have access to the contact information.

Delta says that “will give the CDC access to the data in moments, dramatically decreasing the time it takes to notify affected customers via local health departments.”

“We will retain this information for no longer than is necessary to achieve the contact tracing and public health follow-up objectives, or as required by Customs and Border Protection,” Delta said.

The airlines and federal authorities started talking early on in the coronavirus crisis about how to handle contact tracing of passengers, but could not agree on a plan at the time.

In early March, airline CEOs met with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and federal officials and discussed more effective contact tracing. At issue was whether the government or airlines should be responsible for collecting the information and sharing it with the CDC.

While airlines have some contact information for frequent fliers, they don’t necessarily have it for their passengers who book flights through an online travel booking site, for example.

Delta now says contact tracing adds another layer to its efforts for safe travel. The airline is also testing employees for COVID-19 and announced Thursday it will expand that to weekly testing and will offer at-home test kits to all of its U.S. employees.

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