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U.S. Airlines Agree Voluntary Program To Speed ​​Up Contact Tracing Efforts

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Last February, the Department of Health and Human Services released an interim rule that would have required airlines to collect key information from international passengers, including emails and cell phone numbers. When ordered, airlines were reportedly required to provide it within 24 hours so that authorities could notify travelers of the exhibits.

But the airlines hesitated, saying they didn’t have systems in place to deliver the information within the timeframe requested by the government and that it could take a year to put them in place. Airlines for America, a lobbying group that represents the industry, also argued that collecting data shouldn’t be the job of carriers since the government already had much of it in databases.

The group offered an alternative: it said it would pay to create a separate website and app that could be used to collect passenger data. They were developed but never used.

While airlines are providing passenger information to facilitate contact tracing, federal health officials have requested the change as it can take nearly two weeks to receive the data under existing regulations. Given the incubation period of the virus, officials hoped the new rule would allow them to get information faster.

If an effective contact system is not in place when the first sick passengers arrive, the benefits of contact tracing are dramatically reduced, HHS said when announcing the rule.

Airlines for America said on Friday airlines had made enough progress to implement a voluntary program.

As part of the plan, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines have said they will start collecting information from travelers on flights to the United States. . Passengers may voluntarily provide the information, which will include their legal name, two phone numbers, an email address, and the address of where they will be staying in the United States or permanent residence in the United States.

We hope that this measure, along with existing testing requirements for passengers traveling to the United States, will lead policy makers to lift travel restrictions so that international travel can resume and the social and economic benefits of that travel can be realized. realized, said Nicholas E. Calio. , Managing Director of Airlines for America.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said airlines’ efforts will help control the spread of the coronavirus.

Contact tracing is a fundamental part of nations’ public health response strategy to control the spread of communicable diseases of public health concern, the agency said in a statement. Collecting contact information from air travelers will significantly improve the timeliness and completeness of information for public health monitoring and COVID-19 contact tracing.

While it is unknown how many people have flown carrying the virus, the CDC said last year it had investigated 1,600 cases in which travelers may have infected others. While 11,000 people could have been exposed, officials said incomplete contact tracing information, combined with the incubation period of the virus, made it difficult to confirm cases in which people had been infected during a flight.

Robust contact tracing, wearing masks, frequent hand washing and social distancing are some of the key strategies that health officials say can help control the spread of the virus.

In December, Delta Air Lines announced that it would begin collecting contact details from international travelers on a voluntary basis. The information is passed to US Customs and Border Protection officials, who then pass it on to the CDC. The airline said the new deal announced on Friday would dramatically reduce the time it would take for local health officials to notify customers.

The Uniteds program is also voluntary, but in addition to requesting information from international travelers, the airline also seeks it from those traveling within the country and those on departing international flights. Passengers can provide their contact details through Uniteds’s website, through its mobile app or at the airport.

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