United Airlines rolling out coronavirus testing program for travelers

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker says COVID-19 positivity rates are stable or declining across the state, except in the Northwest region where the rate is nearing 8-percent.

On Thursday, public health officials announced 2,257 new cases of the virus and 30 additional deaths.

Now, United Airlines is rolling out a coronavirus testing program for travelers. It says it is the first US airline to do so, and it comes as the CDC released new information about COVID exposure on flights.

The CDC says it has been made aware of 1,600 flights in which people symptomatic and infected with COVID flew between January and August of this year. It identified nearly 11,000 potential exposures among flight passengers who sat within a 6-foot range of passengers who had contracted the illness.

“Passengers need a boost, they need something to encourage them to press that purchase button to jump on a flight,” said Joe Schwieterman, transportation professor at DePaul University.

Starting October 15, United Airlines passengers traveling from San Francisco International Airport to Hawaii will have the option to take a rapid test at the airport -- or a self-collected, mail-in test before their trip.

Schwieterman says it is the wave of the future for air travel.

“The rapid test technology is using Abbott Labs, which is a Chicago-based company,” he said.

The Chief Customer Officer at United says they will look to quickly expand customer testing to other destinations and US airports later this year.

“This kind of rapid test could really be a game changer,” Schwieterman said.

However, Dr. David Zich at Northwestern Medicine thinks it is a flawed system. He says false-positive tests will prevent people from flying who do not have the illness, and false-negatives could spread it.