CDC Advises Likely Coronavirus Outbreak in U.S.

CDC Advises Likely Coronavirus Outbreak in U.S.

February 26, 2020 — The global situation on Coronavirus (COVID-19) is changing rapidly. Flight Attendants and airlines have been on the frontlines of the initial outbreak in China and throughout Asia. As the virus spreads globally, different geographic areas are becoming a concern, sometimes overnight. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated Tuesday, February 25, 2020, it’s just a matter of time before the outbreak starts to spread in the U.S.


The CDC said the virus will likely become a global pandemic. “Current global circumstances suggest it’s likely this virus will cause a pandemic,” Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters at a news briefing on Tuesday.

The virus, which has now infected more than 80,200 and killed at least 2,704 people, has spread rapidly over the past week through South Korea, Iran and Italy. With the first confirmed case in Brazil today, the virus has now spread to every continent except Antarctica. There are now 57 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S., Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday. A majority of those cases came from passengers repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined off the coast of Japan. CDC data shows that 40 of the cases are attributed to the cruise ship. Three patients were infected in Wuhan and later evacuated to the U.S., and the rest were largely infected while traveling overseas.

*Counts as of February 26, 2020. 

AFA and Airline Industry Response

As this virus spreads, AFA leadership continues to press airlines for proper resources and procedures to mitigate risk to working crews. While airlines have not fully implemented AFA’s recommendations, management has taken actions that exceed CDC guidelines and instruction. Airlines are also consistently assessing pull down of flying to infected regions and AFA is working to ensure Flight Attendants are receiving contractual pay and rescheduling protections. Airlines have responded to the crisis by pulling down flying to China, Hong Kong, and now reducing flying to South Korea. There is on-going assessment of the schedule, risk mitigation and passenger demand.

The reduction of flying has had an economic effect on Flight Attendants at some airlines. AFA leaders at each airline are working directly with airline management through our contracts and other means to mitigate the impact to Flight Attendants. 

AFA continues to call on the FAA to require and/or airlines to voluntarily adopt the AFA communicable disease management checklists, including providing crew members the latest information regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, boarding flights with gloves, masks, hand soap and hand sanitizer. All lavatories must be working and accessible for hand-washing.

This issue cannot be solved by private industry, workers or individual unions. Our federal government must deploy a coordinated response to prevent spread, treat those infected, and provide the resources and information workers and the general public need to prevent a lack of information or misinformation from causing a panic.

Instead, the administration has: 

  • Proposed CDC & NIH cuts earlier this month
  • Dismantled USAID’s pandemic detection program
  • Brought infected people to the US on a plane with healthy passengers
  • Fired the whole pandemic response chain of command in 2018

Read more on the recent dismantling of U.S. pandemic response capabilities >

AFA Immediate Action Recommendations

The FAA/DOT should facilitate the rapid deployment and installation of properly mounted, appropriately-sized bottles of 60% plus alcohol hand sanitizers onboard all aircraft, especially for international flights, in lavatories and galleys.

In addition, on all flights to and from countries where there are now CDC Level 2 or higher alerts, airlines should provide Flight Attendants with their appropriate personal protective equipment (N95 masks, gloves, etc.) and provide refresher training for employees (can be done in briefings) in the proper use and disposal.

These are the current Level 3 destinations, to which CDC recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel:

These are the current Level 2 destinations, which have sustained community transmission of respiratory illness caused by COVID-19:

Flight Attendants Should Review Universal Precautions

AFA has a resource center with information and videos that help Flight Attendants refresh training on proper universal precautions and best practices for mitigating risk of infection. We encourage all members to review this information prior to your next assignment.

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