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Delta will be the first US airline to help CDC with COVID-19 contact tracing

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Delta Air Lines says it will become the first US carrier to help the feds trace the contacts of international travelers who fly while infected with the coronavirus.

Starting Dec. 15, Delta will ask passengers flying to the US from a foreign country for key pieces of personal information that it will provide to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including their names, phone numbers, emails and American addresses.

While travelers won’t be required to provide the info, the Atlanta-based airline says the initiative will greatly reduce the time it takes for health officials to notify passengers who have been around an infected person.

“We want customers to feel safe when they return to travel, and this voluntary program is another way we can provide additional reassurance to customers and employees alike,” Bill Lentsch, Delta’s chief customer experience officer, said in a Thursday statement announcing the effort.

The contact-tracing program will be mandatory for people flying from Italy to the US under Delta’s new partnership with Rome’s airport, which allows travelers to enter Italy without quarantining if they test negative for COVID-19.

But the airline did not say whether it would expand its tracing efforts to flights within the US amid a nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Delta’s move followed years of resistance from airlines to helping health officials with contact tracing, according to The New York Times. The industry has argued that gathering info from passengers would be too time-consuming and expensive and shot down the Trump administration’s effort to require data collection earlier this year, the paper reported.

The CDC currently requests passenger manifests from Delta when it learns about a traveler who flew while infected with COVID-19, the airline said. Officials use the manifests to identify people who sat two seats around the infected passenger and sends that information to local health departments so they can follow up, according to Delta.