There can be good news for people who hope to get to heaven before the vacation. The risk of COVID-19 transmission while flying is lower than you might think.
A new report published in JAMA found that "(D) the risk of developing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) while traveling by air is lower than in an office building, classroom, supermarket or local train." That means that a flight may be less risky than a nightly grocery run.
Safer in the air?
While an airplane may seem like the perfect place for virus transmission because the seats are so close together, there are mitigating factors. An airplane uses recycled air. According to the article, some of the air is passed through high-efficiency particle air (HEPA) filters, which are "the same type as operating rooms," and the rest comes from outside. Not all aircraft have HEPA filters.
The air comes in from the top of the cabin and is pulled out of the floor to be recycled. This improves airflow and quality than the average room. In a normal room with no open windows, air filters, or fans, there is little to no airflow.
Recommended course of action
There are still some risks to air travel. In contrast to an airplane, the airport does not have superior air filtration. So what can you do? The authors suggest that airlines and airports follow these basic steps:
- Keep the flight crew free of infection
- Have good contact follow-up
- Keep the airport clean and hygienic
- Check passengers and limit close contact
- Encourage masks
- Change things like the meal service to limit contact on airplanes
Measuring passenger temperatures is another step some airlines are taking.
Do your part
The passengers must also do their part. People shouldn't fly when they're sick and wearing a mask. As always, the “see something, say something” rule applies: if another person seems uncomfortable, passengers should tell the crew. Passengers should hear the instructions of the flight attendants and the crew. You should limit contact with others and avoid touching their faces. Finally, and this is a strange thing, if possible, passengers should take the ceiling fan and set it to point straight at your head and keep it full.
Unfortunately, transmission can occur. A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said two flight attendants have contracted COVID-19 for in-flight transmission.
There can still be problems
As reassuring as these claims are, they have met with skepticism. Stefan Gingerich, MS, senior epidemiologist with the Minnesota Department of Health, wrote in the comments section of the JAMA article: “(N) Not every supermarket (or plane) is created equal, but some attempting to quantify the risk of each activity mentioned would help theirs Make your point of view much more effective. "
Mr Gingerich pointed out that shopping in a practically empty grocery store and being more than two meters away from everyone else is very different from an eight-hour flight when the person in the aisle seat takes off their mask for 15 minutes and coughs. Other commentators like Dr. Bruce Davidson, a lung disease specialist for the Providence Health System in Seattle, Washington, pointed out that not all HEPA filters are created equally or used properly.
One of the study's authors responded to these concerns: "(A) All efforts must be continued to manage the risks to travelers."
So for people who don't have to fly, it might be worth the wait. But if you need to get up to the sky, there are ways you can do it safely.
Sabrina Emms is a science journalist. She began as an intern on a health and science podcast on Philadelphia public radio. Before that, she worked as a researcher studying the way bones are formed. When she's not in the laboratory and not at her computer, she is in the moonlight as an assistant to a pig veterinarian and bagel baker.