A tale of two responses to pandemic travel

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MIXED SIGNALS: Is it possible to simultaneously take a hands-on and hands-off approach? If so, the Trump administration seems to be doing just that by taking steps to reduce the spread of the coronavirus on international flights while still declining to require masks on commercial and public transportation.


The latest: Officials from DHS, DOT and other U.S. agencies are having preliminary discussions with foreign counterparts — primarily the U.K. and Germany — to develop travel corridors between the U.S. and specific international cities, The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend, with the hope of re-opening travel between New York and London by the winter holiday. Under the plan, passengers would have to be tested for the coronavirus before and after their flight in lieu of lengthy quarantines.

So far: A DHS official said talks over resuming transatlantic flights are still in the “early stages.” A source familiar with the matter told us the conversations have focused on developing policy and guidance as well as the possibility of requiring two pre-departure tests — one a few days in advance and another at the airport — as well as a post-arrival test that might occur after a short quarantine.

Supporters include: Airlines for America is among aviation industry groups that have pushed for a federal Covid-19 testing pilot to replace quarantine requirements for some international flights as a way to help revive air travel. Kevin Burke, CEO of Airports Council International-North America, also said he supported the new federal effort. “As we look to the future of travel, our industry supports leveraging advances in testing capabilities to enable travel corridors or ‘air bridges’ to reconnect communities both domestically and internationally,” he said in a statement.

ON THE OTHER HAND: The White House reportedly blocked a CDC order to require that passengers and employees wear masks on public and commercial transportation and in transit hubs like airports, train stations and bus depots. Health officials told The New York Times that the order was drafted under the agency’s “quarantine powers” and had the support of HHS Secretary Alex Azar, but “the White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, declined to even discuss it.”

Reminder: As we reported last week, DOT again rejected a request to require masks on commercial transportation, prompting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to pledge to do so, if elected.

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CDC says teen gave COVID-19 to 11 relatives across 4 states during a family vacation. Experts see a cautionary tale for holidays

A COVID-19 outbreak that infected 11 people across four states began with a 13-year-old girl who transmitted the virus during a three-week family vacation over the summer, according to a Centers for Disease Control report.

In Illinois — one of the states involved — a Cook County Department of Public Health spokeswoman said that the community where some of the family members live is not currently at risk from this particular outbreak, which occurred months ago.

But the case shows that kids and teens can contract and spread the virus, public health experts say. It also serves as a cautionary tale before the holiday season, a traditional time for many large family get-togethers.

“(The) outbreak highlights several important issues that are good to review before the holidays., a Cook County Department of Public Health spokeswoman said in an email.

The CDC noted that the case underscores the risk of exposure during gatherings, as well as the benefits of social distancing.

“SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) can spread efficiently during gathering, especially with prolonged, close contact,” the CDC report said. “Physical distancing, face mask use and hand hygiene reduce transmission; gatherings should be avoided when physical distancing and face mask use are not possible.”

The three-week family gathering involved five households from four states, according to the CDC report, which was released earlier this month. The report in a footnote mentioned public health departments in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Illinois and Georgia; it did not give any other information about where the family gathering took place or the states where various relatives lived.

The report said the initial patient, a 13-year-old girl, was exposed to COVID-19 during a large outbreak in June. A rapid antigen test four days after her exposure came back negative, before her symptoms began. Two days later she had some nasal congestion, her only symptom. That day she traveled with her parents and two brothers to attend a large family gathering, which began the following day, according to the CDC report.

She was one of 14 relatives ranging in age from 9 to 72 who shared a five-bedroom, two-bathroom home for eight to 25 days, the report said. The relatives did not wear face masks or practice physical distancing, according to the report.

Eleven other family members contracted the virus; one was hospitalized and another went to the emergency room for treatment of respiratory symptoms, but both recovered, according to the report.

“This outbreak highlights several important issues,” the report said. “First, children and adolescents can serve as the source for COVID-19 outbreaks within families, even when their symptoms are mild. Better understanding of transmission by children and adolescents in different settings is needed to refine public health guidance.”

Six additional family members did not stay at the home but did visit on different occasions, maintaining physical distance from relatives from other households. None of those individuals developed symptoms, and four tested negative for the virus, the CDC found.

“None of the six family members

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