American Airlines and the public are only now learning how a mid-March flight from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport brought a coronavirus-infected passenger to Los Angeles International.
In a well-researched report in the Los Angeles Times, a timeline was created that showed how one passenger – a retired surgeon, ironically – was unknowingly infected with COVID-19 and spread it to several people he came in contact with.
But no public health officials contacted crew or any of the other 48 passengers – one of the saving graces since the flight was far from full – that they had been in contact with the man, who was taken to the hospital the day after the flight.
The surgeon, 69, was heading to a dementia-care facility, which later reported several cases of patients and staff contracting the virus.
American Airline officials, health officials and the public did not find out until The Times published the story on June 14.
“That’s a problem,” Dr. George Rutherford, formerly the state epidemiologist for California, said upon hearing that passengers and crew weren’t contacted.
Worse, the paper reported it was the second time a long-haul flight landed in Los Angeles in March while carrying an infected passenger. In the other incident, a March 8 flight from Seoul, the stricken passenger reported running a fever days before leaving South Korea and went into cardiac arrest the morning after she landed, becoming the first confirmed COVID-19 death in L.A. County.
No health officials or fellow passengers were notified, even though lockdown procedures had begun across the country. As the paper noted, more than 200 people on these flights returned to their families and communities ignorant of their exposure, potentially seeding new outbreaks.
“In March, whenever Public Health was aware that an individual traveled on an airline while potentially infectious with COVID-19, it notified the CDC,” the L.A. County Health Dept. said in a statement to The Times.
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