United has announced that it is working with the CDC to roll out a new contact tracing program. Travelers can choose to opt-in and provide information such as addresses, email IDs, and phone numbers. United plans to roll out the program for all domestic and international flights in phases, starting with international arrivals this week.
Contact tracing might be a term you’ve heard a lot of this year, with many countries having dedicated apps and departments. In short, contact tracing is the process of identifying all people that a COVID-19 patient has come in contact with in the last two weeks, according to the WHO.
Today, United announced that it is teaming up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to launch its own contact tracing program. Passengers flying on United will have the option to submit their email address, phone numbers, and destination address.
This information will allow the CDC to identify close contacts and potentially inform nearby passengers if a traveler tests positive within two weeks. Passengers can fill the form before the flight or at check-in itself, with the process taking under a minute.
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Roll out starting now
United will begin rolling out the new program this week and slowly expand efforts. International arrivals will have access to the form first, allowing them to voluntarily submit their information before landing in the US. United plans to include all flights, domestic and international, in the program in the coming weeks.
Speaking about contact tracing, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said,
“Contact tracing is a fundamental component of the nation’s public health response strategy for controlling the spread of communicable diseases of public health concern…Collection of contact information from air travelers will greatly improve the timeliness and completeness of information for COVID-19 public health follow-up and contact tracing.”
Previously, the CDC has struggled to collect contact details in real-time, delaying efforts to slow the virus’s spread.
Much needed step
United has called this initiative the “airline industry’s most comprehensive public health contact information collection program to date.” While this is true, most other countries have their health departments manage contact tracing efforts. Nearly every country requires passengers to fill in forms with their contact details and basic health details before the flight.
Contact tracing has been critical in the fight against COVID-19, allowing countries to isolate those infected as early as possible. New Zealand is seen as the gold standard of contact tracing, having used the process to eliminate the virus. While the US has struggled due to its high infection levels, contact tracing can help to slow the spread.
What do you think about United’s program? Should more airlines launch such programs? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!