AUSTIN, Texas - Ahead of the holiday travel season, United Airlines and the U.S Department of Defense conducted a landmark study to answer a pressing question, what is the risk of contracting COVID-19 on a flight?
Over 300 tests were conducted, spanning over six months. Researchers used robotic mannequins to replicate breathing and coughing, measuring the spread of particles throughout the plane with censors. The study showed a mannequin, seated, with a mask on can transmit 0.003-percent of particles into another passenger’s breathing zone.
Mannequins were used to replicate breathing and coughing.
UT Dell Medical Assistant Professor and Epidemiologist Dr. John Bedolla said airflow is key. A HEPA filter eliminates 99.90 percent of particles, unlike stagnant airflow found in homes or buildings.
“Airplanes remove a tremendous amount of air from the cabin and pump it out very rapidly,” said Dr. Bedolla. “It’s a matter of seeing how these risks compare in different ways that you can be in public. If I’m willing to go one hour in a restaurant then I can spend 15 hours on an airplane.”
However, the study doesn’t say what the risk would be for a person moving throughout the cabin and what the surface exposure inside the airport or in the bathrooms is. Dr. Bedolla reminds travelers to keep safety in mind while being in large crowds.
“It is your responsibility if you feel sick and you have COVID to make sure you get yourself tested before boarding the plane because even if the risk is lower you need to be responsible about yourself and try not to get other people sick,” Dr. Bedolla said.
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