Southwest CEO said masks don't do much on planes at maskless Senate hearing. He tested positive for COVID the next day.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly has tested positive for COVID-19 after a high-profile Senate commerce committee hearing in Washington, D.C.

Kelly, who recently announced plans to retire in early 2022, tested positive after experiencing mild symptoms, Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said. She said he tested negative "multiple'' times before the Wednesday hearing. He is fully vaccinated and received the booster earlier this year, she said.

"Gary is doing well and currently resting at home,'' King said via email, adding that Kelly received his positive test result on Thursday.

Kelly drew some criticism at the meeting for his comments about the effectiveness of mask wearing on planes. Masks are mandated on planes and in airports, and the federal policy was recently extended into March.

"I think the case is very strong that masks don't add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment," Kelly said during the hearing. "It is very safe and high-quality compared to any other indoor setting." 

Kelly and other top airline executives were not wearing masks during the meeting of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

In the interest of contact tracing, Kelly informed others who spoke at the hearing of his positive test.

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said she was notified by Kelly shortly after he tested positive and as she was returning to work after getting the booster.

"I am following CDC protocols and will test several times within the 5-7 day recommended period, and before traveling with my family for the holidays,'' Nelson said in a statement.

Kelly was seated between American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby at the hearing.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 15: (L-R) Doug Parker, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of American Airlines Group Inc., Gary Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of Southwest Airlines Co., and Scott Kirby, President of United Airlines Holdings Inc testify during a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation oversight hearing on Capitol Hill on December 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tom Brenner-Pool/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 775751962 ORIG FILE ID: 1237257700

Parker is being tested this afternoon, American spokesman Curtis Blessing said. Kirby has already tested negative.

John Laughter, Delta Air Lines' chief of operations and the airline's representative at the hearing, tested negative today and on Thursday, Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said.