Delta rolling out COVID-19 testing for all employeesDelta rolling out COVID-19 testing for all employees
FILE PHOTO: Delta Air Lines passenger planes parked in Birmingham

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Delta Air Lines Inc next week is launching a program to test employees for active COVID-19 and antibodies under a partnership with the Mayo Clinic and Quest Diagnostics Inc, Chief Executive Ed Bastian said in an employee memo on Thursday.

Bastian did not say how many would initially be tested but said the program would “evolve into a full testing protocol – something that will be essential as we … begin the return to normal operations.”

U.S. airlines have canceled hundreds of thousands of flights as the industry weathers a sharp downturn in air travel due to the coronavirus pandemic but have recently pointed to a modest increase in demand.

Airlines are requiring employees and passengers to wear facial coverings while traveling and have heightened aircraft cleaning procedures among measures aimed at stemming the spread of the virus in-flight and restoring confidence.

Bastian said the infection rate among Delta’s employees who come face-to-face with customers has been minimal, nearly five times lower than the national average in May, thanks to the measures it has put in place.

The testing program will begin in Minneapolis, followed by Atlanta, Detroit and New York.

On Wednesday, Delta said it had created a new division to oversee its standards and policies on cleanliness.

(Reporting by Tracy Rucinski; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky)