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HomeHealthFauci Hearing, Vaccines and Omicron News: Covid Live Updates

Fauci Hearing, Vaccines and Omicron News: Covid Live Updates

Credit…Gabriela Bhaskar / The New York Times

In just one day during the holidays, nearly a third of United Airlines employees became ill at Newark Liberty International Airport, a major hub for the airline, the company’s chief executive said on Tuesday.

This disclosure, which arrived in a memo to staff members, helps explain recent struggles in the industry. Storms have disrupted flights by causing high winds, rains and heavy snowfall at airports across the country, and the fast-spreading variant of the Omicron virus has compounded the havoc by rendering thousands of airline workers back, leaving many stranded and angry travelers.

Overall, around 3,000 United Airlines employees – more than 4% of its workforce – have recently tested positive for the coronavirus, airline chief executive Scott Kirby said in his memo. The vast majority are not working and United are cutting back on their flight schedules to deal with the shortage.

“Our frontline teams continue to put in tremendous effort during what I know to be an incredibly difficult and stressful time – Omicron’s surge has strained our operations, causing disruption to customers for a period of time. busy vacation, ”he said.

United’s experience is not particularly extraordinary, and two other airlines have canceled many more flights. In total, the industry has canceled more than 29,000 flights, or about 8% of all scheduled trips, since Dec. 25, according to FlightAware, a data tracking service. Many airlines say the virus is at least partly to blame.

The problems started to pile up in the days leading up to Christmas. That week, several senior executives at Delta Air Lines sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asking them to shorten the isolation period for fully vaccinated people infected with the virus, warning that the agency’s recommendation of 10 days would leave the airline without enough workers for a crucial period.

“Similar to the workforce in healthcare, police, fire and public transport, Omicron’s push can exacerbate shortages and create significant disruption,” executives, including Delta CEO Ed Bastian, said. , written in the letter of December 21.

Cancellations began to pile up later in the week, topping 1,000 each day from Boxing Day, when heavy snow and freezing cold wreaked havoc in the Pacific Northwest, until the 31st. December. During that time, JetBlue executives told employees in a memo that the airline had received “record sick calls.”

Credit…Erin Schaff / The New York Times

On December 27, in part in response to requests such as those made by Delta Air Lines as well as some public health experts, the CDC shortened the recommended isolation time to five days for fully vaccinated people.

But changing health guidelines wouldn’t take airlines much relief, at least not right away. The weather – and flight cancellations – continued to deteriorate, peaking on January 3, when airlines canceled more than 3,100 flights, or about 13% of all scheduled trips. It was not until Monday that the number of daily flight cancellations fell below 1,000. In recent days, airlines have proactively canceled many flights to better manage their operations and avoid surprising customers with last minute changes.

Bad weather and personnel issues hit different airlines at different times. Since Christmas, SkyWest Airlines, which operates shorter flights for major carriers including United, has canceled more than 5,100 trips, more than any other airline. Southwest Airlines followed closely with more than 4,800 canceled flights, followed by United, with more than 2,800 cancellations, and Delta, with more than 2,000.

Airlines have generally provided brief public explanations, and representatives for several companies, including American Airlines, Delta and Southwest, declined to give details on Tuesday.

In statements, SkyWest blamed “an increase in Covid cases” while Southwest said over the weekend it “saw an increase” in sick calls and quarantines. The airline said on Tuesday its operations were improving as it weathered the effects of a winter storm that hit the east coast, including its hub at Baltimore / Washington International Airport, earlier this month.

Like United, several airlines have started cutting flights this month to ensure they have the resources to deal with holiday disruptions and avoid further disarray. JetBlue said it would preemptively reduce about 1,300 flights during the first half of January. Alaska recently said in a statement it would cut about one in 10 flights scheduled for the month to gain “the flexibility and capacity to reset.”

Flight cancellations continued this week, although the number has steadily declined in recent days. More than 700 flights were canceled on Tuesday, including around 150 operated by United.

Several airlines have also adjusted their policies for infected employees to align with new CDC guidelines, but the shortened isolation time is fueling debate within the industry. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants from 17 airlines, has urged health officials and airline management to maintain the 10-day isolation period.

“We believe this is a bad decision for aviation because it accepts that infectious people are either put back to work or travel as passengers on our planes,” Sara Nelson, union president, wrote in a recent letter to airlines. . In interviews, several flight attendants also expressed concerns that infectious coworkers could return to work without being tested.

Delta’s legal director sent a cease and desist letter to Ms Nelson’s union last week, accusing it of spreading “false and defamatory information” about the airline’s virus policies. Ms Nelson responded in a letter to Mr Bastian on Tuesday, saying the union had been truthful and specific and accused Delta of confusing staff after changing its policies several times.

Ms Nelson’s union has sought to organize Delta flight attendants, the only such workers at a major airline not to be represented by a union.

The vast majority of employees at major airlines are vaccinated, but although vaccines generally protect against serious illness, they have not completely prevented breakthrough infections. And even those who have few or no symptoms but test positive often need to self-isolate at least for a while.

United’s Mr Kirby told his staff that despite the breakthrough infections, United’s decision to require all employees to be vaccinated or to obtain an exemption was working. The company was one of the first large American employers to implement a vaccination mandate.

No vaccinated employees are hospitalized, and the hospitalization rate among United employees since the mandate came into effect in the fall is much lower than that of the general population, he said. Before the requirement, more than one United employee died from the virus each week, on average. The airline went eight weeks without a single virus-related death among vaccinated employees, Kirby noted.

“When dealing with Covid, zero is the word that matters – zero deaths and zero hospitalizations for vaccinated employees,” he said. “And although I know some people still disagree with our policy, United are proving that demanding the vaccine is the right thing to do because it saves lives.”




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