Coronavirus: Unvaccinated Delta Air Lines employees to face $200 monthly health care surcharge

Delta Air Lines employees who decline to get vaccinated against COVID-19 while enrolled in the company’s health care plan will be subject to a $200 monthly surcharge, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said Wednesday.

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In a memo to employees posted on the company’s website, Bastian said that so far, 75% of Delta employees have been vaccinated.

“While we can be proud of our 75% vaccination rate, the aggressiveness of the (highly transmissible delta) variant means we need to get many more of our people vaccinated, and as close to 100% as possible,” he wrote, announcing a series of measures aimed at convincing more employees to get their shots.

Beginning Wednesday, unvaccinated employees will be required to wear masks “in all Delta settings,” and next month employees who are not fully vaccinated will be required to submit to weekly COVID-19 testing “while community rates are high.” Employees who test positive will be required to isolate and stay away from work.

>> Related: CDC mask recommendations: Is your county a ‘high transmissibility’ area?

“Beginning Nov. 1, unvaccinated employees enrolled in Delta’s account-based healthcare plan will be subject to a $200 monthly surcharge,” Bastian wrote. “This surcharge will be necessary to address the financial risk the decision to not vaccinate is creating for our company.”

The CEO said that the average hospital stay for COVID-19 has cost the airline $40,000 per person, and that since the delta variant spread across the country in recent weeks, “all Delta employees who have been hospitalized with COVID were not fully vaccinated.”

“If you aren’t fully vaccinated, I strongly urge you to discuss the issue with your personal physician or health provider,” Bastian wrote, noting that regulators recently granted full approval of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

>> Related: Coronavirus: FDA grants full approval of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

“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. Vaccinations are the safest, most effective, and most powerful tool we have to achieve our goals, live up to our values and move forward.”

Research has shown that vaccinated people can spread the delta variant of the virus, though health officials have emphasized that fully vaccinated people are well protected against severe illness and death due to COVID-19.

>> Related: Coronavirus: Study finds unvaccinated people 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19

As of Tuesday, more than 51% of the U.S. population, or 171.3 million people, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Officials said 202 million people, or about 61% of the population, have gotten at least one dose of one of the available vaccines.

Since the start of the pandemic, officials have reported more than 38 million COVID-19 cases nationwide, resulting in over 630,800 deaths, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins. Globally, 213.4 million COVID-19 cases have been reported, resulting in 4.4 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.