Three Minnesota Republican congressmen came under fire over the weekend for flying Delta days after their possible exposure to COVID-19 from campaign events with President Donald Trump. But according to an internal memo obtained by Thrifty Traveler, Delta knew the three lawmakers had potentially been exposed to coronavirus and cleared them to fly after a health assessment.
Reps. Pete Stauber, Jim Hagedorn, and Tom Emmer flew from Washington, D.C. (DCA) to Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) on Friday evening, less than a day after Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19. The three Republican congressmen had joined Trump for a rally in Minnesota earlier that week and joined the president on Air Force One.
Their decision to fly commercial the same day Trump tested positive caused an uproar. Though all three congressmen defended the flight by saying they had limited contact with the president and tested negative prior to the flight, the potential for initial false test results soon after exposure raised the prospect that they could have unwittingly brought the virus onboard.
Delta’s safety policies explicitly state: “Customers who have knowingly been exposed to COVID-19 in the past 14 days may not travel.” The airline defines exposure as face-to-face contact with an infected individual or 15-plus minutes of sustained contact within six feet of an infected person. Delta also requires all travelers checking in for their flights to certify they will wear a mask; have not experienced any COVID-19 symptoms; and have not been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
As outrage over the flight to Minnesota simmered, it was unclear whether Delta knew Reps. Stauber, Emmer – or if they misled the airline in order to fly home. In the memo, Delta confirmed that they were aware of the possible exposure before the flight and subjected the congressmen to additional screening.
“Anytime we are made aware of a potential health exposure, we have additional screening processes we implement with our partners at Stat-MD,” Delta wrote. “In this case, our medical partners at Stat-MD conducted additional screening measures including assessing symptoms, distance and time spent with the individual, and whether the individual has been asked by a health official to quarantine.”
“All of these conditions were met or the customers would not have been able to depart on the flight,” Delta concluded.
Congressman Emmer says he did not attend a fundraiser on Lake Minnetonka with the president. He stayed on Air Force One with Stauber and Hagedorn “watching baseball” before flying to Duluth. He says they were kept in a separate area from the crowd at the rally as a precaution. pic.twitter.com/dtG7tTBsFp
— Tom Hauser (@thauserkstp) October 2, 2020
Stat-MD is Delta’s health care provider, the same service it uses to perform health assessments for flyers who claim a medical exemption from the airline’s mask mandate. Those assessments involve a virtual consultation with a doctor.
Flight records show that the Friday evening flight departed more than 1 hour 20 minutes late, and Delta previously confirmed to The Associated Press that the plane was held until it was cleared to fly.
Delta defended its safety and health policies and the decision to let the congressmen fly.
“The assessment included symptom screening, gauging the distance and time the customer may have been in close contact with an individual who is COVID positive, and whether the individual has been asked by a health official to quarantine,” a spokesman said in a statement. “These three measures (symptoms, distance/time and quarantine) make up our policy and are consistent with CDC’s guidelines for exposure.”
In the midst of a coronavirus pandemic that has now infected the president, First Lady Melania Trump, and a growing count of the president’s inner circle, the episode risks tarnishing a safety-first image Delta has sought to put front and center. Delta is blocking middle seats on all flights through early January 2021, has touted its strenuous new cleaning procedures, and has steadily strengthened its mask requirements in flight.
The airline has also proudly claimed it has banned more than 350 flyers for failing to wear a mask – including some top-tier Diamond Medallion flyers.
This is a breaking news story. Check back for more updates.
Lead photo courtesy of Chris Lundberg via Flickr.