Risk of exposure to COVID-19 in airplanes “virtually non-existent” when masked, study finds

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The study, conducted by the Department of Defense in partnership with United Airlines, was released Thursday. They performed 300 tests in just over six months with a dummy on a United plane.

The mannequin was equipped with an aerosol generator that allowed technicians to reproduce breathing and coughing. Each test released 180 million particles – equivalent to the number of particles that would be produced by thousands of coughs. They studied how the particles of the mannequin moved inside the cabin with a mask on and off.

Testing assumed the flight was completely filled with technicians placing sensors in the seats, galleys, and the jet deck to represent other passengers on the plane.

“99.99% of these particles left the interior of the plane within six minutes,” Josh Earnest, communications director at United Airlines, told ABC News. “It indicates that being on an airplane is the safest indoor public space, due to the unique configuration inside an airplane that includes aggressive ventilation, lots of airflow. ”

In late September, CEOs of major U.S. airlines said their employees were reporting lower COVID-19 infection rates than the general public.

“At United, but also with our major competitors, our flight attendants have lower COVID infection rates than the general population, which is one of the many data points that testify to safety on board airplanes. United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said at a Politico event.

Last week, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) published new research, saying the risk of catching the virus on an airplane appears to be “in the same category as being struck by lightning.”

Among 1.2 billion travelers, IATA has found only 44 published cases of potential in-flight transmission. Most of those 44 cases occurred in the early days of the pandemic when masks were not needed.

“We are seeing a recovery, but we have a long way to go,” Earnest said. “And even with all of this promising air travel safety information and some of the progress we’re making in terms of implementing a testing regime, we recognize that we won’t be far from getting back to normal as long as we not have a vaccine widely distributed and administered. ”

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