With the holidays quickly approaching and the coronavirus pandemic still active, many people have one question: Should they stay home or fly out to see family?
Whether you choose to travel to visit loved ones or opt to stay home, the choice is yours. Luckily, at least one part of this dilemma is straightforward. A recent Harvard study examining air traveler infection risk found that 100% use of face masks by passengers cut down COVID-19 transmission risk significantly.
Are Aircraft Cabins COVID-19 Hot Spots?
All airlines require passengers to wear face masks during the current COVID-19 crisis. The only exception to this rule is children under the age of two. And if you think it isn’t being enforced, major airlines have already banned over 700 fliers for failure to comply. It may seem like airlines are being overly cautious, but face masks really that important for public health right now.
Aerolized respiratory particles are the primary way that COVID-19 is transmitted. These particles can linger in the air for a long time, so airplane cabins without any protection in place would normally be prime locations for spreading the virus since passengers are seated within inches of each other for extended periods of time.
You're probably wondering: What happens when airline passengers don’t wear face masks? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released the results of a study that analyzed a “super spreader” event. In this situation, a passenger on a Vietnam Airlines flight in March ended up transmitting COVID-19 to several nearby travelers and flight attendants.
Unsurprisingly, both CDC guidelines and a report from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health support the widespread usage of face masks on flights.
Taking Flight? Take a Face Mask
With funding from several aviation organizations, the Harvard researchers behind the recent report found that face masks are “one of the most pragmatic and effective options” for stopping coroanvirus spread in an aircraft. And to really ensure everyone's safety as much as possible, all passengers should be masked up.
So, just how important is universal usage of face masks during air travel? The report suggests that, if all airline passengers wear surgical masks, it “may reduce infection risk from respiratory particles to less than 1 percent.”
According to the Harvard study, airlines carried an infection risk of 3.69% prior to the adoption of universal face mask policies. It’s worth noting that some individuals factored into this risk score could have contracted the coronavirus before or after their flights.
With that said, the report recommended that passengers wear coronavirus protection for their faces from the time when they enter the airport to the moment when they leave the destination airport. When face mask usage is implemented in tandem with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration and surface disinfection, these intervention efforts offer substantial COVID-19 protection for air travel passengers.
The report also mentioned that effective cloth face mask protection comes down to the kind of fabric used, number of layers, and tightness of the weave. It suggested that fabrics with high thread counts are best, and the more layers, the better. The addition of a filter layer would be great as well. Lastly, make sure to pay special attention to how tightly your mask fights around your nose and mouth.
Here's How to Improve Your Flight Safety Chances
Want to take the safest route this holiday season? Then you're probably better off staying home per the CDC's recommendation. Of course, we do understand that many people will still be boarding flights over the next two months. If you find yourself in this category, here are some tips to make your air travel as safe as it can be:
- Book unpopular flight times — this means fewer people onboard, which lowers the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Plus, you'll save some money!
- Follow social distancing protocols whether you're checking in, boarding, or picking up your luggage from baggage claim.
- Take a window seat if you're flying alone.It has less proximity to people moving in the aisle and fewer people surrounding you.
- Wipe your area with disinfectant before sitting down. Most airlines are already disinfecting between flights, but it never hurts to be extra cautious.
- Turn on your overhead air vent while everyone is boarding.
- Decrease any time spent without wearing a face mask. If this means limiting how much you eat and drink while in flight, so be it.
- Make sure you’re monitoring COVID-19 activity in your destination. If a major spike is occurring there, it may be best to hold off on going to that area.
We hope that this article helps you navigate the holiday season safely. Whether you choose to fly out to see family or stay home, don’t forget your face masks!
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