Hours after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its quarantine guidelines for people who test positive for or are exposed to the coronavirus, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International pushed back against the new guidance.

The CDC now recommends that people who test positive for the coronavirus need only isolate for five days if they’re no longer symptomatic, and should wear a mask around others for the following five days. The CDC also shortened quarantine timelines for people who come into contact with someone who tested positive. The changes may help minimize disruption for schools, businesses and supply chains as cases rise nationwide. 

Sara Nelson, the president of the AFA, said in a statement that the changes may give businesses cover for putting staffing needs ahead of worker health.

“The CDC gave a medical explanation about why the agency has decided to reduce the quarantine requirements from 10 to five days, but the fact that it aligns the number of days pushed by corporate America is less than reassuring,” Nelson said in the statement.

Several airlines had recently asked CDC director Rochelle Walensky to reconsider the 10-day isolation guideline. In a letter dated Dec. 21, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian noted that the mandate would impact Delta’s staffing and operations. JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes called the 10-day mandate “extremely disruptive” in a Dec. 22 letter, and the lobbying group Airlines For America also advocated for a five-day maximum quarantine in a Dec. 23 missive.

Nelson expressed concerns that the five-day timeline will mean flight attendants may be forced to return to work before they’re fully recovered and risk being exposed to contagious individuals who don’t comply with mask guidelines. 


“If any business pressures a worker to return to work before they feel better we will make clear it is an unsafe work environment, which will cause a much greater disruption than any ‘staffing shortages,'” she said. 

Nelson called on members of Congress to support paid sick leave policies to keep workers safe and reduce pressure to return to work sick. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 22% of U.S. workers did not have access to paid sick leave policies as of March 2020.

Major airlines have said their staffs are largely vaccinated. And while Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, said Monday that it was “reasonable to consider” a vaccination mandate for domestic flights in the U.S., Airlines for America said it has been told there are no immediate plans to implement such a requirement.

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