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Delta Airlines adds widespread virus testing to reassure travelers

A widely available coronavirus vaccine would go a long way toward rebuilding public confidence in air travel, but until it arrives, Delta Airlines believes widespread, proactive COVID-19 testing for employees will help win passengers' trust.

What's happening: In partnership with the Mayo Clinic and Quest Diagnostics, Delta plans to test every one of its 75,000 employees for both active COVID-19 and antibodies by the end of the month.


  • It will then use those results as a baseline to help develop a re-testing strategy based on tailored risk assessments.
  • More than 60% of Delta employees have been tested so far this month.
  • Delta and CVS Health said this week they would accelerate testing of remaining flight crews with a 15-minute test administered in crew lounges at Delta hub airports.

Why it matters: Testing is another precaution by Delta — in addition to checking symptoms, requiring masks, cleaning planes frequently and limiting flight capacity to 60% — to try to woo back passengers during the pandemic.

  • Other airlines are doing many of the same things, but it's believed Delta is the only one attempting to test every employee.
  • Testing is "really one of our best tools right now in keeping workforces safe," Dr. William Morice of the Mayo Clinic tells Axios.

How it works: Employees are voluntarily tested for the virus using a nasal swab, and for antibodies using a blood test.

  • Tests are conducted in cities with large employee populations — including Atlanta, Minneapolis and New York — with a self-collected at-home testing option as well.
  • By testing everyone, Delta and Mayo hope to identify broader trends that might alert them to higher-risk workplaces or routes, for example.
  • Then they can respond with the appropriate measures to address those particular risks.

Context: Air travel collapsed 90% in late March and early April when stay-at-home orders were implemented to stop the spread of the virus, per Airlines for America, a trade group.

  • As of mid-August, domestic passenger volumes are still down 70% from a year ago; international travel is down 88%.
  • The average domestic flight is 47% full, compared with 88% a year earlier.

What they're saying: "Any survey you look at, people are still concerned whether it's safe to travel," Delta CEO Ed Bastian told "Axios on HBO" in June. "And it's our job to ensure the traveling public that indeed it is safe."

  • After 9/11, it was fairly easy to increase airline security, but "when you have a virus, that's really an invisible enemy, it's much more difficult," Bastian said.
  • “This is a journey with no finish line — and we know that more than three-quarters of customers, when asked, share that regular employee testing will help boost their confidence in travel," Bill Lentsch, chief customer experience officer at Delta, said in a statement.

The bottom line: While most consumers are still wary of travel, those who have traveled recently are far more confident to fly again, according to a survey by PwC.

Go deeper: Plane cabins could change dramatically because of the pandemic. Here’s how. (Washington Post)

U.K. clears Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for mass rollout

The United Kingdom became on Wednesday the first Western country in the world to license the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for widespread use.

What they're saying: "Today’s emergency use authorisation in the UK marks a historic moment in the fight against COVID-19," said Albert Bourla, the chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, per the Guardian.

  • "This authorisation is a goal we have been working toward since we first declared that science will win, and we applaud the MHRA for their ability to conduct a careful assessment and take timely action to help protect the people of the UK."

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

Biden tells NYT he won't immediately remove U.S. tariffs on China

President Trump's 25% tariffs imposed on China under the phase one trade deal will remain in place at the start of the new administration, President-elect Biden said in an interview with the New York Times published early Wednesday.

Details: "I'm not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the tariffs," Biden said. He plans to conduct a full review of the current U.S. policy on China and speak with key allies in Asia and Europe to "develop a coherent strategy," he said.

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Trump threatens to veto Defense spending bill over social media shield

President Trump tweeted Tuesday a threat to veto a must-pass end-of-year $740 billion bill defense-spending authorization bill unless Conress repeals a federal law that protects social media sites from legal liability.

Why it matters: Trump's attempt to get Congress to end the tech industry protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is the latest escalation in his war on tech giants over what he and some other Republicans perceive as bias against conservatives.

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The walls close in on Trump

With Bill Barr's "Et tu, Brute!" interview with AP, President Trump is watching the walls close in on his claims of fraud, hoaxes and conspiracies.

Why it matters: Trump and his legal team continue to claim election fraud. But the Republican governors of Arizona and Georgia have certified their elections, a loyalist like Barr has weighed in, and lower-ranking officials have taken potshots.

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Congress plots COVID pandemic-era office upgrades

The House plans to renovate members' suites even though staff are worried about an influx of contractors and D.C. is tightening restrictions on large gatherings, some staffers told Axios.

Why it matters: The Capitol has been closed to public tours since March. Work over the holiday season comes as U.S. coronavirus cases spike, Americans beg for more pandemic assistance and food lines grow.

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Trump applies extreme pressure on Bill Barr to release so-called Durham Report

President Trump and his allies are piling extreme pressure on Attorney General Bill Barr to release a report that Trump believes could hurt perceived Obama-era enemies — and view Barr's designation of John Durham as special counsel as a stall tactic, sources familiar with the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Speculation over Barr's fate grew on Tuesday, with just 49 days remaining in Trump's presidency, after Barr gave an interview to the Associated Press in which he said the Justice Department has not uncovered evidence of widespread fraud that could change the election's outcome.

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CDC to cut guidance on quarantine period for coronavirus exposure

The CDC will soon shorten its guidance for quarantine periods following exposure to COVID-19, AP reported Tuesday and Axios can confirm.

Why it matters: Quarantine helps prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which can occur before a person knows they're sick or if they're infected without feeling any symptoms. The current recommended period to stay home if exposed to the virus is 14 days. The CDC plans to amend this to 10 days or seven with a negative test, an official told Axios.

  • The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CDC panel: COVID vaccines should go to health workers, long-term care residents first

Health-care workers and nursing home residents should be at the front of the line to get coronavirus vaccines in the United States once they’re cleared and available for public use, an independent CDC panel recommended in a 13-1 emergency vote on Tuesday, per CNBC.

Why it matters: Recent developments in COVID-19 vaccines have accelerated the timeline for distribution as vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna undergo the federal approval process. States are preparing to begin distributing as soon as two weeks from now.

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