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United Airlines works with CDC to start COVID-19 contact tracing on all flights

A United Airlines agent wears a face mask at a ticket counter at St. Louis-Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, Mo., on March 28. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
A United Airlines agent wears a face mask at a ticket counter at St. Louis-Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, Mo., on March 28. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 16 (UPI) -- United Airlines said Wednesday it has started a COVID-19 contact tracing program that will collect key health information from passengers on all domestic and international flights.

The carrier said the effort, which is being supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will allow travelers to opt-in and provide contact information like email addresses, phone numbers and addresses when they check in for a flight.

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The contact information is an important part of tracking the coronavirus disease and controlling its spread worldwide, United and the CDC said.

The initiative is believed to be the airline industry's most comprehensive public health contact information collection program to date.

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"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," CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a statement Wednesday.

"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."

United said the program will be rolled out in multiple phases over the coming weeks.

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"Initiatives like testing and contact tracing will play a significant role in slowing the spread of COVID-19 until a vaccine is widely available," United Chief Customer Officer Toby Enqvist said in a statement.

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"United continues to take a leadership role in both areas and is proud to support the CDC by doing our part to help them safeguard public health and safety."

A study published recently in The Lancet found that tracing 80% of people who have come into contact with a carrier of COVID-19 can significantly help communities reduce onward transmission of the virus.

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The airline said travelers can opt into the program by using the United mobile app, in person at the airport or at United.com.

United was the first U.S. carrier to offer coronavirus testing for passengers in September and it is now offering tests at no cost for travelers flying between the New York City area and London.

Also Wednesday, Southwest Airlines announced new service to California to begin next year. The carrier will fly to Santa Barbara and Fresno, likely starting sometime between April and July.

Southwest already serves 11 locations in the state, including several airports in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Like all other airlines, Southwest has seen severe disruption this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and this month began giving furlough notices to almost 7,000 pilots, flight attendants and other employees.

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In a filing with regulators Wednesday, Southwest said revenues slowed in November due to a spike in cases and renewed restrictions.

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