Delta Air Lines claims early results from a mass COVID-19 testing program of its 75,000 strong workforce shows infection rates among customer-facing staff are below the U.S. national average – and therefore, it’s ‘CareStandard’ measures to reduce transmission of the novel Coronavirus are working. In late June, Delta started to test its entire workforce for COVID-19 and hopes to have tested every single employee by month-end.
So far, however, only around 50 per cent of employees have been tested using both antigen testing (to find out whether someone is infected with the virus at that point in time) and pin-prick antibody testing (which reveals whether someone has previously been infected with COVID-19 and could, therefore, have immunity to the virus).
“Our customers want to know that the people caring for them while travelling are healthy,” explained Delta’s executive vice president and chief people officer, Joanne Smith. She said that the program would help keep employees and their families safe, while hopefully increasing confidence amongst passengers in the safety of air travel amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of June 24, around 500 Delta employees had tested positive for COVID-19 according to the Atlanta-based airline’s chief executive Ed Bastian. Tragically, at least 10 employees are known to have died after becoming infected with COVID-19.
Bastian made the revelation shortly after Delta inked a deal with the Mayo Clinic and Quest Diagnostics. Delta is using Quest’s pin-prick serology tests to determine whether someone has the antibodies to COVID-19.
At the height of the pandemic, Delta was receiving reports of between 20 to 25 positive test results amongst its employees every day. By June, that number had dropped to around one or two cases a day. The airline hasn’t provided updated figures since a surge of cases in a number of states including Georgia.
Delta says that any employee who receives a positive test is required to self-isolate at home for at least 10-days in accordance with CDC guidelines. Workers are offered full pay protection during their home quarantine. The airline is also operating its own in-house contact tracing system to find workers who may have come into contact with someone who has tested positive. They are then required to self-isolate for at least 14-days.
Onsite COVID-19 testing is taking place in cities with large employees counts like Atlanta, Minneapolis and New York. At-home testing kits are also being sent out to employees who can’t make it to a test center.
Delta wasn’t immediately able to say whether antigen PCR testing would become a regular part of their employees work life. An employee that tests negative on one day, may become infected the next, suggesting regular testing is crucial if Delta is to realise the full benefit of this multi-million dollar effort.
Smith suggested more news on that front may be coming soon. “While we’re encouraged by our results, we know we can’t afford to let up now,” she commented. “Health experts agree that a multi-layered approach – one that includes testing, symptom-checking, mask-wearing, environmental cleaning and physical distancing – are the greatest inhibitors to spreading COVID-19,” she continued.
These measures, Smith explained, “will play a critical role in keeping our people safe in the weeks and months ahead.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently used by some of the biggest names in journalism.