ATLANTA (NewsNation Now) — Unvaccinated employees of Delta Airlines will be required to pay a $200 monthly surcharge on their health care plan on top of taking a weekly COVID-19 test.
The latest move by the airline comes as it tries to encourage as many of its employees as possible to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Protecting yourself, your colleagues, your loved ones and your community is fundamental to the shared values that have driven our success for nearly a century,” Delta CEO Ed Bastian said in a memo to all employees.
Delta stated that 75% of its employees are vaccinated and that all breakthrough cases among the company’s staff were among the unvaccinated.
The weekly COVID-19 tests for unvaccinated employees begin Sept. 12 and all COVID-19 related fines go into effect Nov. 1.
Delta was among the first airlines to impose any kind of vaccination mandate. It announced in May 2021 that all new hires would be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine. At the time, Delta said it would not impose one on all staff members.
Later, Frontier Airlines and United Airlines both issued vaccination mandates for all employees. Other companies have used incentives such as additional time off and cash to motivate vaccination.
Delta said the change in strategy is in part because of the rising case rates from the delta variant.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health crisis, and one of the most dangerous challenges our world has faced in this lifetime,” said Bastian. “Our Chief Health Officer, Dr. Henry Ting, describes the variant as a “heat-seeking missile” that transmits predominantly through the unvaccinated community.”
Bastian added that the average COVID-19 hospital stay for a Delta employee costs $50,000 per person.
Delta has also been working with the state of Georgia to run a mass vaccination site out of its flight museum. The company reported that 35% of all vaccines distributed at mass vaccination sites in Georgia were given at the flight museum.
New reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. now top 150,000 a day, the highest level since late January, although the rate of increase has slowed. Southwest, Spirit and Frontier have blamed the virus for a slowdown in customers booking flights, and U.S. air travel remains down more than 20% from pre-pandemic 2019.
A growing number of companies including Chevron Corp. and drugstore chain CVS announced they will require workers to get vaccinated after this week’s decision by the Food and Drug Administration to give full approval instead of just emergency-use permission to the Pfizer vaccine.
The FDA’s move could boost the U.S. vaccination rate, which fell from 3.4 million shots a day in April to about 500,000 a day in July. It has since climbed to about 850,000 a day as concern grows about a rising number of new infections caused by the delta variant.