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President of flight attendants’ union slams CDC for shortening the quarantine period: ‘It was all about the staffing issues’

White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci and AFA-CWA president Sara Nelson.

Greg Nash/Tom Brenner/Associated Press

  • A flight attendant union has criticized the CDC for changing its quarantine guidelines from 10 to five days.
  • President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, Sara Nelson, said: “it was all about the staffing issues.”
  • The decision comes after Delta Air Lines sent a letter to the CDC requesting a reduced COVID-19 isolation period.

The Centers for Disease Control has shortened its COVID-19 quarantine guidance for asymptomatic people from 10 to five days, but a flight attendant union says the change was not driven by health safety.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants-CWA, issued a statement on Monday criticizing the CDC for reducing its recommended COVID-19 isolation period to five days.

“We said we wanted to hear from medical professionals on the best guidance for quarantine, not from corporate America advocating for a shortened period due to staffing shortages,” Nelson said. “The CDC gave a medical explanation about why the agency has decided to reduce the quarantine requirements from 10 to five days, but the fact that it aligns with the number of days pushed by corporate America is less than reassuring.”

The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Nelson’s remarks. According to the CDC, the change in quarantine requirements was driven by the understanding that COVID-19 transmission “occurs early in the course of illness,” which is typically one to two days before symptoms start and two to three days after.

The new five-day guidelines apply to people who test positive for COVID-19 but are not showing symptoms. The agency also recommends those individuals continue to wear a mask for another five days after the isolation period. Nelson also said that airlines need to explain how they plan to implement the new guidelines to ensure employees wear masks at all times and only people who are asymptomatic come back to work. 

Last Tuesday, Delta Air Lines sent a letter to the CDC requesting the agency alter the recommendation to five days, saying flight disruptions could occur if the agency maintained the 10-day guideline. “The letter was signed by Delta CEO Ed Bastian, Delta’s medical advisor Carlos del Rio, and Delta’s senior vice president and chief health officer Henry Ting.”

“Our employees represent an essential workforce to enable Americans who need to travel domestically and internationally,” Bastian wrote in the letter. “With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the 10-day isolation for those who are fully vaccinated may significantly impact our workforce and operations.”

Nelson told CNN on Tuesday that the change came about “at the behest of Delta Air Lines” because they realized they may face staffing shortages over the holidays. Unlike other carriers that negotiated incentive pay for their employees, Delta, which does not have unions, did not, according to Nelson.

“Delta has always, without exception, put the health and safety of our people and customers ahead of all else, which includes our industry-leading cleaning practices throughout the pandemic and blocking middle seats for sale for more than a year,” a Delta spokesperson told Insider in an emailed statement. “We support the recent change in CDC guidance … Delta has and continues to follow the science-backed approach of the CDC and any statement to the contrary is simply without merit.”

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