GOP Sen. Rand Paul says he refuses to take the COVID-19 vaccine, claims he already has ‘natural immunity’

Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

  • Sen. Rand Paul says that he doesn’t need to be vaccinated because he contracted COVID-19 last year.
  • “I’ve already had the disease and I have natural immunity,” Paul said on WABC 770 AM.
  • Paul has repeatedly clashed with Dr. Anthony Fauci over medical recommendations to fight COVID-19.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky on Sunday said that he won’t take a COVID-19 vaccination shot to protect against the highly infectious disease.

During a WABC 770 AM radio interview with New York businessman John Catsimatidis, Paul, a trained ophthalmologist, said that he made his decision based on the fact that he already contracted COVID-19 in March 2020.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that individuals who previously had COVID-19 should still get vaccinated because there is no timetable for natural immunity.

Paul said that until he feels assured that immunity through vaccination is more effective than natural immunity, he will skip taking any shots.

“Until they show me evidence that people who have already had the infection are dying in large numbers, or being hospitalized or getting very sick, I just made my own personal decision that I’m not getting vaccinated because I’ve already had the disease and I have natural immunity,” Paul emphasized.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said earlier this month that new studies have shown that vaccines increase any natural protection against new COVID-19 variants that individuals may have had from a previous infection.

“Vaccines, actually, at least with regard to SARS-CoV-2 [the coronavirus] can do better than nature,” he said. “Vaccination in people previously infected significantly boosts the immune response.”

Paul has repeatedly clashed with Fauci over the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last November, Paul blasted Fauci, alleging that he “tends to gloss over the science” on COVID-19 immunity.

“Dr. Fauci is like ‘oh, woe is me,’ until the election occurs and now, maybe he’ll be changing his attitude,” he said.

Paul’s attitude has differed dramatically from that of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, his fellow Bluegrass State Republican, who has supported Fauci and publicly urged Americans to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

In the interview, Paul said that people who had contracted COVID-19 and recovered did not need to wear masks.

“We have 11 million people in our country who’ve already had COVID,” he said on Fox News at the time. “We should tell them to celebrate. We should tell them to throw away their masks, go to restaurants, live again, because these people are now immune.”

Paul told WABC 770 that taking the COVID-19 vaccine is a personal decision and should not be compulsory.

“In a free country you would think people would honor the idea that each individual would get to make the medical decision, that it wouldn’t be a big brother coming to tell me what I have to do,” he said. “Are they also going to tell me I can’t have a cheeseburger for lunch? Are they going to tell me that I have to eat carrots only and cut my calories?”

He added: “All that would probably be good for me, but I don’t think big brother ought to tell me to do it.”

Read more: Assassination threats, AOC potshots, and wolf teats: 2 wild weeks inside Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Georgia district as it flips a giant middle finger at DC

Paul’s comments come at the US looks to increase the numbers of individuals who are vaccinated after the initial vaccination demand has subsided in recent weeks.

According to the CDC, 61.1 percent of adults have received at least one vaccination shot and 49.2 percent of the adult population is now fully vaccinated.

Since the pandemic began in the US, over 589,000 people have died, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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Teachers unions say they’re ready to come back to schools. I’ll believe it when I see it.

coronavirus uk schools
  • The politically-powerful teachers unions say they’re ready to send their members back to work, now that the COVID pandemic is effectively over.
  • And yet as a NYC public school parent, I don’t believe my kids will have full-time, in-person, five-day-a-week learning this September.
  • Because with the teachers unions there’s always a “but” – just as there is this time.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

One of the US’ major teachers’ unions has, at long last, come around to admitting its members should be back in school, full-time, this fall. It’s a huge, albeit long-delayed, development. But as a parent of three school-aged kids, count me as still skeptical.

The shift came when American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten last Thursday gave a long-anticipated speech to members of the second-largest teachers union in the country and thousands of its local affiliates.

Weingarten said plainly: “There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In person. Five days a week.”

The fog of pandemic fear, behind which the teachers’ unions have hidden for over a year, is lifting. The miracle of the COVID vaccines have made so many questionably-effective “better safe than sorry” safety measures truly obsolete.

But as a New York City public school parent whose kids haven’t been in school in any meaningful sense since March 10, 2020 – I’ve heard these sweet-sounding words about the teachers’ unions’ commitment to “fully” reopening schools before.

Their relentless goalpost-shifting for reopening, and their gaslighting of parents with repeated claims that they have wanted to reopen schools since April 2020, have lost them the benefit of the doubt.

I’ll need to see it – full-time, in-person schooling with actual teachers in the classroom – in order to believe the teachers unions truly mean what they say this time around.

There’s always a “but”

Weingarten said all the right things in her speech, asserting that her union is “all in” on fully reopening schools. She conceded that “prolonged isolation” for young people is “harmful.” And she admitted “remote learning is not on par with in-person teaching” and “equity gaps have grown wider” as a result.

But there’s always a “but.”

The union boss said schools will need to continue to vigorously enforce social distancing, which will require schools to come up with a whole lot of additional space they don’t have. Weingarten also called for schools to reduce class size, and warned of yet-unknown risks that could complicate schools reopening or staying open next year.

And as The New York Times noted, “The devil will be in the details negotiated at bargaining tables, where local union leaders may demand additional safety measures as a precondition to a full return.”

If the past year of failed negotiations to get teachers back in schools has taught us anything, it’s that the unions get what they want without having to give much in return.

Teachers prioritized for vaccination? Done. Almost $200 billion in federal spending for COVID safety measures in schools? Done. Enormous amounts of time and resources spent on hygiene theater? Done.

The unions admitting they were wrong to hype the threat of schools becoming COVID hotspots, and thus making many Black and brown families not want to send their kids to school? Never.

We’ve seen this movie over and over again for the past 15 months

I can clearly envision the anti-reopening arguments that will begin percolating when this August rolls around:

“Too many parents don’t feel safe sending their children back into school buildings!”

“We need remote teachers to teach the remote students!”

“There aren’t enough teachers, so we’re only going to have in-person school 1.5 days a week.”

With less than four months before the next school year begins, I’m not confident that any of these concerns will be effectively hashed out in time to save kids from losing part of a third year of their education.

As vaccines proliferate in the US, the AFT and other politically-powerful teachers unions can pat themselves on the back for so successfully working the system that they keep their “essential worker” membership from going into work for the entire pandemic.

But they also should be embarrassed over the damage they’ve done.

Forget about the learning loss – which some educators say we should now refer to as “learning change” – experienced during the pandemic. The psychological tolls and stunted socialization have been devastating for children kept out of schools and away from other kids for more than a year.

And by downplaying the necessity of in-person learning for so long, they’ve recklessly undermined the value of the noble profession of teaching.

Good teachers are invaluable guides through children’s development. Pretty much all teachers work hard. The pandemic has been brutal on educators.

But teachers unions have peddled the fiction that there has simply been no reasonable compromise available to fully reopen schools many months ago. That short-sighted misstep has driven people toward private schools and out of areas with politically-powerful public school teachers unions.

There are many institutions whose pandemic comportment deserves a full accounting once we’re truly out of the COVID woods.

The intransigence of the teachers unions and the feckless government officials who bent to their will at the expense of parents and students deserves a full, independent accounting.

Denying scientific evidence in the name of members “safety” was always just a front for flexing political power.

Weingarten’s seemingly-resolute declaration that it’s time for teachers to get back into school buildings was made up of nice-sounding words, but they are only words.

I’m not holding my breath that my kids will be back in school full-time in September, because I’ve seen this movie over and over again.

Teachers unions do not deserve to be trusted on their words at this point, just their deeds.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Companies across the US are offering workers perks for getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s the running list.

covid vaccine card cdc
ICU nurse Megan Tschacher shows off her vaccination card at UC Health Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado on December 14, 2020. Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post/Getty Images

  • Workers across the US can receive extra pay from their employers for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Many front-line workers are now able to receive the vaccine in various states and localities.
  • So far, almost 34 million people have received one or more doses of the two-shot immunization.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Companies across the US are joining in the largest-ever vaccination effort by offering employees perks if they receive the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine.

Receiving the vaccine is voluntary, but most companies have strongly encouraged employees get the immunization when it’s their turn. The two-dose vaccines, one from Pfizer and BioNtech and the other from Moderna, were emergency approved in the US in December. Since then, almost 34 million people have received one or more doses, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many states and localities have begun moving from the first phase of vaccinating health care workers and elderly living in long-term care facilities to immunizing front-line workers. With that, some companies are giving workers two to three hours of paid time off per dose received, and others are offering a stipend for employees who voluntarily get the shots when it’s their turn.

Recently, Publix, Petco and AT&T joined the growing list. Here’s the 18 Insider knows about so far:

Know of a company not on this list that’s offering employees time off, pay, or other perks to get vaccinated? Email Natasha, the reporter of this piece, at

1. Target

Eduardo MunozAlvarez/VIEWpress via Getty Images

Target is offering workers up to four hours of paid time off to get both shots of the vaccine and will pay for Lyft rides up to $15 for employees needing transportation to and from their appointment.

2. Dollar General

dollar general
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The discount chain was the first major retailer to announce an incentive for workers to get vaccinated. Dollar General employees can earn up to four hours of pay for receiving both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and will receive extra time off if they have an adverse reaction.

Read more: What’s coming next for COVID-19 vaccines? Here’s the latest on 11 leading programs.

3. Darden Restaurants

olive garden
Patrons enter an Olive Garden Restaurant. Steve Helber/AP Photo

Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, and The Capital Grille, will offer workers four hours of paid time off, two hours per dose, Bloomberg reported. Employees must show proof of their vaccination to earn the time. The company doesn’t require the shots, but strongly encouraged workers to get them.

4. Shake Shack

shake shack
Noam Galai/Getty Images

The burger-and-shake restaurant chain will give workers 3 hours of pay per shot of the two-dose vaccine. Shake Shack didn’t mandate employees receive the vaccine but “strongly encouraged” it.

5. Noodles & Company

Noodles & Company.
Noodles & Company.

Workers will earn up to four hours of paid time off for receiving the vaccine, the company said in a Feb. 10 statement to Insider. The restaurant strongly recommended employees receive the vaccine but did not require it.

6. Kroger

Kroger logo is seen at one of their stores in Athens, Ohio. Stephen Zenner/SOPA

The grocer is giving employees a one-time $100 payment for getting the vaccine. On top of that, Kroger said it would give associates an added bonus of a $100 store card and 1,000 fuel points to “thank and reward” workers during the pandemic.

7. Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe's.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The grocery retailer will offer all 50,000 employees two hours of pay per dose and allow for flexible scheduling so workers can make it to appointments.

8. Aldi

Aldi store shop
Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

The German grocer will cover employee costs associated with receiving the vaccine and provide two hours of pay for each of the two doses received.

9. Instacart

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SOPA Images/Getty Images

The app will offer its US and Canada shoppers, who deliver groceries to customers, a $25 stipend to get vaccinated.

10. Lidl

Leonhard Foeger/File

The German grocery chain is encouraging workers to get vaccinated by offering its US workers $200 in extra pay if they receive the immunization.

11. McDonald’s

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Scott Olson/Getty Images

The fast food chain is giving workers four hours of pay for receiving the vaccine. Though getting the shots is not required, the company said it will connect employees with groups that can answer questions on the vaccination, Restaurant Business reported.

12. Starbucks

starbucks barista drinks
Richard Drew / AP Photo

The coffee chain is offering workers two hours of pay per dose of the COVID-19 vaccine they receive.

13. Chobani

Chobani Greek Yogurt
Sarah Schmalbruch / INSIDER

Chobani will give workers up to six hours of pay, three per dose, for receiving the vaccine, Human Resource Executive reported.

14. Amtrak

AJ Packer/

Amtrak is allowing employees to get vaccinated during work hours, and will pay for two hours off if employees provide proof they received the shot. Workers will also be excused with pay for up to 48 hours if they have side effects.

15. JBS USA and Pilgrim’s

jbs meatpacking greely colorado
The JBS meatpacking facility in Greeley, Colo. Chet Strange for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The meat-packing company is offering employees a $100 bonus incentive if they receive the vaccine voluntarily.

16. Petco

petco groomers
Petco groomers. AP Photo/Richard Vogel

The pet-supply retailer told Insider it would offer employees a one-time payment of $75 for getting vaccinated. Plus, it will give a $25 donation to the Petco Partner Assistance Fund for each person who receives their shots.

17. AT&T

People walk past the AT&T store in New York’s Times Square, June 17, 2015. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

AT&T is giving employees up to four hours of paid time off per dose, adding up to eight hours total for anyone who needs the hours to get the vaccine, a spokesperson said in an email to Insider. The company is also giving workers access to Castlight, a tool to help them find available vaccines in their area based on eligibility.

18. Publix

Publix grocery store night
Johnny Louis/Getty Images

Publix will give associates a $125 gift card to the store after they get both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Workers aren’t required to get the shots at Publix, but they will need to show proof of vaccination. The vaccine is optional, though encouraged, the company said.

19. Walmart and Sam’s Club


Beginning May 18, Walmart and Sam’s Club will give its associates below the store manager level $75 for being fully vaccinated, the companies announced on May 14. Workers are required to show their vaccine card in order to receive this bonus.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Google’s childcare workers are furious about the company ordering them back into the office without paying their transportation costs


The workers who educate and take care of Google corporate employees’ children during the day are furious over being hit with additional transportation costs as the company requires them to return to in-person work.

Google has told its 148 San Francisco Bay Area childcare workers to return to the office starting Monday, despite the company’s shuttle services remaining shut down and many corporate employees being allowed to keep working remotely, according to a statement from the Alphabet Workers Union.

As a result, Google is forcing the childcare workers, who AWU said earn an average of $20 per hour, to find alternative ways to get to work. That could be costly, especially for the many workers who live far from Google’s campuses due to the high cost of living in the Bay Area, AWU said.

In response, the workers, with the support of AWU, launched a petition Friday asking Google to provide a $1,500 monthly transportation stipend until the company’s shuttle services resume. As of Friday evening, the petition had gathered more than 250 signatures from workers at Google and other subsidiaries of its parent company, Alphabet.

Google did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

“Transportation isn’t just a nice-to-have for us, it’s fundamental if we want to do our job,” Denise Belardes, a Google educator and AWU member, said in a statement to Insider via AWU.

“Options that cost money are not real options. We’re not the ones making hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. We do not have the option to work from home as other Googlers. We need this stipend,” Belardes added.

The workers also pointed to recent Alphabet regulatory filings that said the company saved $268 million last quarter – which would amount to more than $1 billion annually – on “advertising and promotional as well as travel and entertainment expenses… primarily as a result of COVID-19” as employees work remotely.

“The corporation has been investing some of [its] record profits in the wellbeing of the return to office plan for some of its workforce, including creating specialized privacy robots, and new technology to help with the transition,” the petition said. “Clearly, Google can be an extraordinary problem solver, but is choosing not to solve this problem for its childcare workers.”

Google has been more responsive to its corporate employees, however.

After some employees expressed frustration over the company’s plans to return to the office by September under a “hybrid” plan, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said this week that the company would take a more flexible approach with roughly 20% of employees remaining fully remote.

But when Google childcare workers raised the transportation issue to the company, its response, according to the petition, was: “transportation is just a perk, not a benefit.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

Boeing CEO took home $21 million in compensation last year despite plans to let go of 30,000 employees

Boeing HQ
The company logo hangs above an entrance to the headquarters of The Boeing Company on January 29, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois.

  • David Calhoun, CEO of Boeing, was awarded compensation of $21 million last year, even as the company reported a $12 billion net loss.
  • The company also announced it would lay off about 30,000 employees.
  • A regulatory filing for Boeing says the CEO’s total compensation last year is estimated to be 158 times that of the company’s median employee.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Boeing CEO David Calhoun received more than $21 million in compensation last year while announcing plans to lay off about 30,000 workers.

The company reported a $12 billion loss in 2020, following an abysmal year due to a drop in demand for travel because of the coronavirus pandemic, a slump in deliveries of new planes, and the worldwide grounding of its 737 Max following two deadly accidents.

Over the past year, Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, has announced it would let go of about 30,000 employees through layoffs and attrition. Calhoun earlier this month instituted a voluntary layoff plan to help cut costs as the coronavirus complicates the company’s recovery from its 737 Max crisis.

In a letter to employees, Calhoun said recent events have left the company in ‘uncharted waters’ and that cutting staff now will help the planemaker adjust to the smaller aerospace market likely to exist after the pandemic.

Calhoun, who became CEO in January 2020, declined a salary and performance bonus for the majority of 2021, but he still received stock benefits worth more than $21 million, according to a regulatory filing. Calhoun also received $269,231 in salary for the first three months of the year and about $290,000 in other compensation.

Calhoun’s total compensation last year with the estimated stock awards is estimated to be 158 times that of the company’s median employee, a filing showed.

Boeing’s stock price has fallen more than 70% in the past year.

The company did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

But a company spokesperson told the New York Times that “Dave obviously gave up a lot.”

Boeing’s cash woes are linked to a steep drop in net aircraft sales. In 2020 alone, Boeing delivered 157 planes. It was the lowest number of planes delivered since 1984. Boeing received more than 650 cancellation orders last year and removed more than 1,000 planes from the market.

US regulators in December lifted a 22-month grounding order for the company’s embattled 737 Max that was instituted after two crashes that resulted in hundreds dead. Then, earlier this month, Boeing announced that some of the Max planes were facing “a potential electrical issue” and recommended that 16 airlines immediately ground those jets so the issue could be resolved. At the time, few other details were released.

Calhoun is one of numerous CEOs who’s received millions of dollars in compensation in 2020. The median pay across more than 300 of the country’s top public companies was around $13.7 million last year, Insider’s Anna Cooban reported.

Insider’s Graham Rapier contributed to this report.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Americans are sitting on $2.6 trillion in excess savings from the pandemic that can help power a recovery, Moody’s says

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Americans built up extra savings over the pandemic as spending opportunities were limited.

Americans have built up excess savings worth $2.6 trillion since the start of the coronavirus pandemic that will help power the economy’s recovery from the crisis, according to Moody’s Analytics.

The US has amassed the most excess savings of any country, with the cash pile amounting to 12% of gross domestic product.

Around the world, people have built up extra savings worth $5.4 trillion, equal to around 6.5% of GDP. Savings have shot up as opportunities for spending have been limited by lockdowns but central banks and governments have pumped money into economies to support employment.

“An unleashing of significant pent-up demand and overflowing excess saving will drive a surge in consumer spending across the globe as countries approach herd immunity and open up,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, a sister company of the credit ratings agency, in a note.

Zandi said Moody’s expects 20% of the US excess savings to be spent in 2021, adding 2.4 percentage points to real GDP growth in 2021. The analysis company expects the US economy to grow 6.4% in 2021 after shrinking 3.5% in 2020.

A further 20% will then be spent in 2022, Moody’s predicted, adding another 2.4 percentage points to annual growth, which is set to come in at 5.3%.

However, Zandi said the unequal nature of the savings built up in the US would limit an even bigger boom in spending.

“Much of the excess saving has been by high-income, high-net-worth households who are likely to treat the saving more like wealth than income, and will thus spend much of less it, at least quickly,” he said.

Moody’s data showed that nearly two-thirds of the excess savings in the US is by households in the top 10% of the income distribution, and three-quarters is by those in the richest 20%.

Excess savings are defined as extra savings on top of what households would have put aside had coronavirus not occurred and their behaviour been the same as in 2019.

Earlier this month, JPMorgan strategist Karen Ward said the large build-up in consumer spending could lead to stronger-than-expected inflation, which could in turn cause volatility in stock markets.

“The US consumer is generally not known for its reserve and thriftiness at the best of times,” she said.

Ward said she thought it was likely that inflation averaged 3% over the next decade. Core personal consumption expenditure inflation, the Federal Reserve’s preferred measure, stood at an annualized 1.4% in February.

Read the original article on Business Insider

‘No personal liberties were taken away’: Joe Scarborough blasts Jim Jordan for spreading ‘lies’ about Fauci

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Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

  • Joe Scarborough blasted Rep. Jim Jordan for his conduct while questioning Fauci during a hearing.
  • “When do Americans get their freedom back?” Jordan aggressively asked of Fauci.
  • “It’s so personal and it is personal,” Scarborough said. “They have lied about Dr. Fauci.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Friday slammed GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio for peddling “lies” about Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, during a congressional hearing on the COVID-19 pandemic.

During an episode of “Morning Joe,” Scarborough was disturbed by Jordan’s behavior, where the congressman repeatedly questioned when the country would fully reopen and said it was “obvious” that Fauci didn’t see coronavirus-related health restrictions as an “assault” on the liberties of Americans.

The testy back-and-forth exchange between Jordan and Fauci resulted in Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters of California telling Jordan to “shut your mouth” after the congressman’s time had expired and he attempted to continue questioning Fauci.

Scarborough expressed displeasure with Jordan, along with individuals who have minimized the severity of the coronavirus.

“It’s so personal and it is personal,” he said. “They have lied about Dr. Fauci. They have spread conspiracy theories about Dr. Fauci. They have said the most preposterous things.”

He added: “They’re trying to attack the messenger … while they’ve been lying through their teeth to the American people, who has been warning that a lot of people could die. A year ago, they kept saying, ‘Open things up, everything’s fine, what is this? No worse than the flu.’ No worse – over 550,000 people are dead. And the lies continue. The scapegoating still continues.”

Read more: Visa’s PAC gave politicians $139,000 in March after vowing to pause contributions because of the Capitol insurrection

Scarborough, a former GOP congressman who represented a deeply conservative district in the Florida Panhandle, refuted Jordan’s claims that individual freedoms have been threatened since the start of the pandemic last year.

“No personal liberties were taken away,” he said. “The Supreme Court has reviewed the cases. The courts have reviewed cases. It’s sheer idiocy playing for the lowest common denominator.”

Scarborough then lamented that “lies” and “conspiracy theories” about Fauci “have always gotten clicks.”

“You have to be a moron to believe it, but there are, I guess, a lot of morons out there,” he said. “Jim Jordan peddles the suggestion that Anthony Fauci somehow is the problem instead of a coronavirus that’s spread across America and killed 550,000 people.”

During the House Oversight and Reform hearing on Thursday, Jordan repeatedly asked Fauci for a set timeline on when people could resume their normal lives, seemingly ignoring the complexities of the virus, including new variants that have spread throughout the country this year.

“When do Americans get their freedom back?” Jordan asked Fauci. “We had 15 days to slow the spread … turned into a year of lost liberties.”

“You’re indicating liberty and freedom,” Fauci responded. “I look at it as a public health measure to prevent people from dying and going to hospital.”

Since the pandemic began in the US, nearly 32 million people have been infected and over 566,000 people have died, according to the latest data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The CDC’s suggestion to block middle seats on planes is flawed but I’m still in favor of it after taking 32 flights during the pandemic

Flying Delta Air Lines during pandemic
My blocked middle seat and me.

  • Airlines are rejecting the CDC’s study suggesting blocking middle seats, citing newer findings.
  • Blocking middle seats, however, serve as a peace of mind measure for those returning to flying.
  • Not all airlines are following some of the recommendations of the studies they tout.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Airlines seemed to flat out reject a new suggestion from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday that middle seats should be blocked in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The airlines cited more recent studies that prove the efficacy of mask-wearing and air filters on aircraft.

“Since the onset of this crisis, U.S. airlines have relied on science, research and data to help guide decisions as they continuously reevaluate and update their processes and procedures,” a spokesperson for the trade organization Airlines for America, which represents the likes of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines, told Insider.

“Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low,” the organization said.

Delta is currently the last airline to still block middle seats but will stop doing so on May 1, the longest run of any US airline to block seats. The CDC’s study hasn’t deterred the airline either, which held firm on the policy shift when asked by CNBC on Thursday.

“Our experts tell us that with vaccination rates where they’re at and demand being as strong as it is it’s absolutely safe to sit in that middle seat,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said.

Read More: Airline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population – and airline CEOs say it’s proof that flying is safe

Airlines and at least one aviation expert agree that the CDC study is flawed in multiple aspects including that it was performed in 2017 using maskless mannequins – while wearing masks on an airplane is now mandated by federal law – and wasn’t conducted on an actual airplane, unlike more recent studies.

But science aside, blocking middle seats served a valuable purpose during the pandemic: inspiring peace of mind among travelers returning to flying after months of being grounded.

My experience with blocked middle seats

I’m a life-long flyer and returning to the skies in June 2020 was not an easy decision. Like many, I’d feared catching the novel coronavirus and had a brief moment of panic when I boarded my first flight amid the pandemic.

I was lucky to be flying Delta, however, as I’m sure my panic would have been worsened if I was on a packed plane.

More Americans are returning to flying, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, and awaiting them come May are crowded flights now that every major US airline is filling aircraft to capacity. Plus, what traveler doesn’t appreciate having more room to spread out with an open middle seat?

I do realize that airlines need to be profitable in order for me to keep enjoying their services. Delta, after all, estimated that it lost up to $150 million in potential revenue from blocking seats in March.

But, not all of the country is vaccinated and even those that are still might not feel comfortable with being packed into a plane.

My hope is that airlines giving up on seat-block will double down on other efforts to drive home the fact that flying is safe. I’ve seen this on airlines like Delta and United but some have a way to come in their efforts.

The findings of studies promoting air travel as safe are predicated on airlines following their recommended precautions. But even the industry-funded study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health specifically gives recommendations that some airlines aren’t following or enforcing.

One recommendation, for example, states: “Reduce the density of passengers embarking/disembarking the jet bridge at any one time.” Southwest Airlines just reverted to boarding in groups of 30 and doesn’t install social distancing placards, as Insider found on recent Southwest flights in February, even though the study recommends as much.

The Harvard study also mentions, “When one passenger briefly removes a mask to eat or drink, other passengers in close proximity should keep their masks on,” a rule not mandated by most US airlines.

So while crowded flights are here once more and justified by science, airlines aren’t completely off the hook and will still need to do their utmost to keep flyers safe.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Delta CEO Ed Bastian declares ‘it’s absolutely safe to sit in the middle seat’ in defiance of CDC suggesting airlines should block them

Flying on Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying on Delta Air Lines during the pandemic.

  • Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said on CNBC Thursday flying in the middle seat is “absolutely safe.”
  • The airline will fill planes to capacity starting May 1 in an end to the year-long seat-blocking policy.
  • Guiding the airline’s decision are experts from the Mayo Clinic and Emory University.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Delta Air Lines is holding firm on its commitment to end a year-long middle seat block despite a newly released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends keeping middle seats open to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

CEO Ed Bastian appeared on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” Thursday morning and criticized the report’s shortcoming when asked, saying: “Our experts tell us that with vaccination rates where they’re at and demand being as strong as it is it’s absolutely safe to sit in that middle seat.”

Guiding Delta’s decision, according to Bastian, are experts from the Mayo Clinic, Emory University, and Delta Chief Health Officer Dr. Henry Ting, formerly of the Mayo Clinic. The airline deferred to trade organization Airlines for America when asked for comment on the CDC report.

“Since the onset of this crisis, US airlines have relied on science, research, and data to help guide decisions as they continuously reevaluate and update their processes and procedures,” a spokesperson for the organization said in a statement to Insider. “Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low. “

Read more: Airline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population – and airline CEOs say it’s proof that flying is safe

Henry Harteveldt, an industry analyst and cofounder of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider that the CDC study and its release were flawed for multiple reasons, chiefly because it doesn’t take into account the new realities of travel. Researchers ran the trials in 2017 using maskless mannequins while masks are now mandatory in airplanes under federal law.

Harteveldt and airlines instead point to more recent studies, including one by the US Department of Defense where masked mannequins were tested onboard a United Airlines wide-body aircraft. Airlines similarly tout a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study that declares the risk of air travel to be “below that of other routine activities during the pandemic, such as grocery shopping or eating out” when precautions are taken.

Both support the claims by airlines that flying is safe thanks to measures like mask-wearing and the use of high-efficiency particulate air filters, or HEPA filters, regardless of whether seats are blocked. Harteveldt noted, however, that the Harvard study was funded by the airline industry while the DOD study was not.

Delta was an early and ardent adopter of the seat-blocking policy and kept seats blocked the longest of any major US airline, most of which started filling planes in late 2020. The policy cost Delta up to $150 million in potential revenue in March but even still, the month was successful as the airline saw positive daily cash flow thanks to a surge in travelers.

“Thanks to the incredible efforts of our people, we achieved positive daily cash generation in the month of March, a remarkable accomplishment considering our middle seat block and the low level of demand for business and international travel,” Bastian said in an earnings statement, adding that he expects the airline to be profitable once more in September.

Come May 1, however, the American traveling public will not have an option to travel on a major commercial airline where middle seats are blocked.

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Why every major US airline will ignore the CDC’s new suggestion to block middle seats

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Airlines will likely not be blocking middle seats despite a new CDC recommendation.
  • Mask-wearing policies and high-efficiency particulate air filters have greatly reduced onboard outbreaks.
  • Airlines have also begun selling summer flights based on flights being sold to capacity.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Airlines are not convinced by the newly-released report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says blocking middle seats will better reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, more so than what they’re doing now.

All major US airlines, confident in measures like mask-wearing and the use of high-efficiency particular air filters, or HEPA filters, are moving away from the practice with no signs of reverting back to it while others never adopted it and are not likely to. Delta Air Lines is the last hold out with its policy slated to end on May 1.

But the reasoning goes well beyond the desire of airlines to turn a profit by filling planes.

“Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low,” Airlines for America, the trade organization representing many of the country’s major airlines including Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines, said in a statement to Insider.

Airlines are already walking a fine line to prevent an onboard outbreak while trying to get flyers to come back. If an outbreak were to occur, the industry could go right back to where it was in March 2020 with mass cancellations and billions of dollars being lost.

Masks have been required onboard commercial airline flights for almost a year now and any major outbreak would have been well noted and investigated. The 2017 study also doesn’t take into account the measures being taken by airlines, one industry expert says.

“This is months-old data that overlooks a lot of changes in the real world policies and practices that the air transport industry has implemented since the study was first conducted,” Henry Harteveldt, industry analyst and co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, said of the just-released CDC report. Researchers ran the tests in a laboratory setting using mannequins that were not wearing face masks.

More recent studies from the US Department of Defense and Harvard School of Public Health better-simulated pandemic conditions by using actual airplanes – the DOD partnered with United Airlines and used commercial aircraft, for example – and by masking up the mannequins.

Harteveldt noted that each stud likely isn’t perfect, as the Harvard study was industry-funded. And while the DOD study is more dependable, it only used wide-body aircraft for its testing, a factor that Harteveldt says isn’t a major limiting issue considering the filtration systems are comparable on narrow-body aircraft.

Reverting back to the days of blocking middle seats would also wreak havoc on airlines that have begun selling tickets on planes to capacity for the summer.

“If you were to tell a passenger now, ‘oh, we have to rebook your vacation because we’re blocking middle seats,’ I think you’d have a lot of upset travelers,” Harteveldt said, noting airlines would like demand compensation from the government if it became law.

Travelers have indicated time and time again that they’re willing to fly on any airline if the price is right, regardless of the seat block. American Airlines and United Airlines had no trouble filling some flights in the first summer of the pandemic when flights were sold to capacity, as Insider found on multiple flights in June 2020.

“The consumers went where they could get the flights and fares that they could afford,” Harteveldt said. “And this was before vaccines were available and before wearing a mask was a federal mandate.”

Delta Air Lines is set to end its middle-seat block on May 1, at which point none of the 11 major US airlines will offer the policy. Airlines are also not alone as Amtrak and Megabus have also announced definitive ends to their seat blocking policies, as well.

Read More: Airline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population – and airline CEOs say it’s proof that flying is safe

Crowded flights are back and here to stay.

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