Now that so much of the population is vaccinated, some U.S. airlines are calling for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to shorten its recommended quarantine period for staff.
The organization’s guidelines still call for employees to isolate for 10 days after a positive COVID-19 test. That hasn’t changed since the start of the pandemic, before vaccines were available.
First, it was Delta Air Lines, then JetBlue. And there will likely be more airlines asking the CDC to cut the recommended quarantine time from 10 to five days, according to Airline Weekly editor Madhu Unnikrishnan.
It comes down to not having enough people in place, he said.
“If, say, 20% of an airline staff is out for several days during the busiest time of the year, then operationally they’re gonna be really hamstrung.”
Unnikrishnan said carriers saw this happen during the COVID surge in the summer and again this fall.
“And those were periods where there wasn’t as much travel as there’s expected during the holiday rush,” he said.
Holiday travel has been robust so far, even with the emergence of the omicron variant. The available data shows omicron is more transmissible but can be less severe than the delta variant and others that came before it.
With so much of the airline workforce vaccinated, Dr. Monica Gandhi, who specializes in infectious disease at University of California, San Francisco, said the five-day quarantine makes sense.
“We now know that people who are vaccinated, their immune system comes rushing in as fast as it can to try to bring down that virus to kill that virus and render it noninfectious. That’s what the immune system does,” she said.
Gandhi said that the virus is evolving — and it’s time for pandemic policy to do the same.