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Delta Air walks back COVID ‘seasonal virus’ comment after criticism

April 19, 2022, 10:35 PM UTC

Delta Air Lines Inc. circled back to the public-relations runway on Tuesday after calling Covid-19 an “ordinary seasonal virus” as the airline announced the end of the mask mandate on flights.

The airline used the phrase in a statement saying it was relieved when a court lifted the federal mask mandate on air travel, drawing criticism from Twitter users for what they deemed to be dismissive language of the pandemic. Tatiana Prowell, an associate professor of oncology at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, wrote in a post that the U.S. lost hundreds of people to the disease Tuesday alone, for an annual pace that would be far worse than a normal flu season.”

The company later edited its statement to read, “We are relieved to see the U.S. mask mandate lift to facilitate travel as Covid-19 transitions to a more manageable respiratory virus.” Delta declined to comment beyond a note on its Tuesday press release saying it had been updated “for clarity and accuracy.”

The language wasn’t unique to the original statement. Throughout the carrier’s April 13 earnings call, Delta CEO Ed Bastian also used the original phrase to refer to Covid-19: “As Covid shifts from a pandemic to a manageable seasonal virus, there are clear signs of pent-up demand for travel and experiences as consumer spending shifts from goods to services and experiences,” Bastian said. Later he added that the company had dropped an insurance surcharge for unvaccinated workers given that “we really do believe that the pandemic has moved to a seasonal virus.’’

Most major U.S. airlines, including American Airlines Group Inc., Alaska Air Group, Southwest Airlines Co. and United Airlines Holdings Inc., dropped mask requirements for passenger and crew April 18 after a federal judge overturned the mandate and the Transportation Security Administration said it would no longer enforce it. Meanwhile, other parts of the U.S. have started to experience shutdowns as a result of a rise in cases, primarily due to the BA.2 variant, including Broadway theaters in New York City. 

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