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Delta partners with CDC for international traveler contact tracing

Delta Air Lines has announced that it will begin coronavirus contact tracing for travelers arriving in the United States.

The airline, which announced the news Thursday in a press release, is partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the launch, which is aimed at keeping "international customers informed of potential COVID-19 exposure."

"Along with our nine global airline partners, we are working with government agencies, health officials and aviation authorities to offer safer travel at every point in your journey," the news release said.

Beginning Dec. 15, Delta will ask customers traveling to the U.S. from an international location to voluntarily provide information for "contact tracing and public health follow-up efforts."

The five pieces of information needed are the passenger's full name, email address, address in the U.S., primary phone number and secondary phone.

The release says the data will be "directly and securely transmitting" to the CDC via U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"This will give the CDC access to the data in moments, dramatically decreasing the time it takes to notify affected customers via local health departments," the release said.

In an internal memo obtained Thursday by USA TODAY, Delta CEO Ed Bastian also announced expanded measures for employee testing, including increasing on-site rapid testing, providing testing kits at workplaces with smaller employee populations and offering at-home testing kits to all U.S. employees.

"These efforts continue to be critical to your health and safety, as well as to the future of our business, given that many of our customers still have concerns about air travel," he wrote.

"While we enjoyed an increase in travel volumes over the Thanksgiving holiday, in reality they were still less than half of what we normally fly during the holiday."

The CDC logged 1,600 COVID-19 investigations on commercial aircraft from January through August. By comparison, the agency had to deal with about 150 cases of communicable diseases on flights in 2018 and 2019 each, usually the measles, spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey told USA TODAY in September.

Through August, the CDC had identified more than 10,900 people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus on a plane.

The cases fall to contact tracers, who may be hampered by incomplete, inaccurate or stale contact information for those they are trying to reach, the CDC said at the time.

In February, the CDC issued a rule that would have required airlines to get passengers' full names and basic contact info on international flights, but it wasn't enforced, as the airline industry protested that the plan would be onerous and costly.

This article originally appeared on USA Today

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