The man’s wife was overheard telling first responders her husband had been experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19
As the coronavirus vaccine becomes available to some citizens, Americans continue to prepare for a holiday season with pandemic protocols. However, experts worry parts of the population have grown weary of social distancing and other safety measures, and have made travel plans even though the coronavirus shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. Now, in the final days before Christmas, United Airlines is helping the CDC contact passengers after health care professionals determined a man who died on a flight earlier this week could have died of a heart attack due to COVID-19 complications, The New York Times reports.
The plane, which was scheduled to fly from Orlando to Los Angeles, made an unscheduled landing in New Orleans after a man on the flight suffered a cardiac arrest. While first responders tended to the man, flight crew members overheard his wife telling the healthcare workers that her husband had been experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19. However, she and her husband had not disclosed the symptoms — which included the loss of taste and smell — prior to boarding the flight, according to the Times report.
In a statement to Business Insider, a United spokesperson said the airline is not certain the man was infected as he was not tested, but does believe he withheld information about his symptoms before boarding the plane.
“The family confirmed the passenger suffered from pre-existing conditions, including high blood pressure, and upper respiratory issues, and was feeling sick leading up to the day of travel,” the spokesperson said. “We can confirm that at the time of check-in the passenger acknowledged on our ‘Ready-to-Fly’ checklist that he had not been diagnosed with COVID-19 and did not have COVID-related symptoms, which after receiving more information about the health of this passenger it is apparent the passenger wrongly acknowledged this requirement.”
“We implore passengers not travel if they have been diagnosed with Covid-19 or have Covid-related symptoms,” United Airlines said in a statement after reports of the event surfaced. “If in doubt, the best option is to get tested.”
The airline had been contacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after the in-flight incident, and has been complying with the organization’s request to provide passenger contact information for contact trcing, the Times reports. “We are sharing requested information with the agency so they can work with local health officials to conduct outreach to any customer the CDC. believes may be at risk for possible exposure or infection,” the airline said.
United Airlines explained its actions following the emergency landing in a statement to the Times, saying, “The decision to continue on to Los Angeles was made after the medical professionals initially ruled the emergency as cardiac distress. A change in aircraft was not warranted. Instead, passengers were given the option to deplane and take a later flight or continue on to Los Angeles. All passengers opted to continue.”
News of the possible COVID-19 exposure to passengers spread on social media and some passengers suggested that he was returning to Los Angeles after a trip to Disney World based on the Disney bags his family brought onto the plane.
It remains unclear if the CDC was able to contact all of the passengers on the flight.
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