How Safe Are You From Covid When Traveling?

How Safe Are You From Covid When Traveling?

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Risks beyond theft

The way air moves in planes isn’t the only part of the safety equation, infectious disease experts say: the potential for exposure can be just as high, if not more, when people are in the air. the terminal, sitting in restaurants and airport bars or going through the security line.

As more people fly – nearly 1.5 million people passed through U.S. airports on Friday – congestion and overcrowding in parts of the airport can make physical distancing more difficult.

Airports vary in size and passenger volume, configurations and on-site activities, Harvard researchers found. This could increase the chances of exposure depending on where people hang out and for how long.

Going to restaurants in the terminal, for example, can be risky as masks are regularly removed and kept for eating.

Harvard researchers found that many airports were not designed to mitigate the airborne spread of respiratory pathogens. Although some airports have installed new or additional filtration systems, distance, vigilance, and other safety practices are still critical.

“The challenge is not limited to the plane,” said Saskia Popescu, an epidemiologist specializing in infection prevention. “Think about the airport and the whole journey.”


The particle airflow simulation was performed using a later version of the Boeing 737NG as a model for the cabin interior, which has only side air intakes. The model represented passengers occupying all seats. A computational fluid dynamics code system known as FEFLO was then used to simulate the flow of over 2.5 million particles.

A large number of very small particles were introduced into the cabin inlet ducts, in part to check for the movement of pathogens that may have passed through the HEPA filters without being captured. The simulation showed that the air near the passengers’ heads had been in the cabin for less than 50 seconds. The first 10 frames of the particle flow animation have been slowed down for clarity.

Different sneezing positions were simulated as part of the modeling, and only smaller particles were used to estimate what might become airborne. These supposed facial covers could block larger particles expelled during a sneeze that could otherwise land on surfaces and parts of the body. The particles in this visualization have been magnified for presentation purposes.

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