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The thing to remember about the high levels of air turnover and filtration in airplanes is that the systems are typicially on when the plane is in the air. Not necessarily during boarding, the wait to take off, the wait for a gate, or deplaning. https://yourlocalepidemiologist.substack.com/p/sars-cov-2-transmission-on-planes
Put Your Face in Airplane Mode
Masking only at the start and end of every flight will do a lot to keep you safe.
Here’s the cheat code: Instead of masking up for your whole flight, just cover up at the start and end of it. Those crucial few minutes—first when you’re boarding the plane, and then after you’ve landed—account for only a sliver of your travel time, but they are by far the riskiest for breathing in viral particles.
A commercial flight might seem like the scariest possible setup for super-spreading COVID: Hundreds of strangers who have been God-knows-where over the past few days cram into a metal tube for hours on end. In such quarters, and given current infection rates, you’re very likely to have at least one sick person on board
But your chances of getting sick don’t stay the same during the course of the flight, Joseph Allen, a Harvard public-health professor who studies ventilation, told me. When the plane is at cruising altitude, the risk will be at its lowest.
That’s because planes are equipped with virus-zapping ventilation systems that put schools, restaurants, and other places to shame. About half of the stale, germ-laden air gets flushed out of the plane as the engines suck in more air from outside, and the other half gets recycled through HEPA filters. No other indoor spot that people typically frequent rivals that level of ventilation: In a home, the air gets refreshed every three hours. In a bank, it’s every 45 minutes. In a hospital operating room, it’s at least every five minutes. On airplanes, that cycle takes as little as two minutes.
But these primo ventilation systems aren’t always on, and they’re not always operating at full blast. To cut down on fuel costs and exhaust emissions—at least before the pandemic—pilots often shut off the ventilation system while planes are at the gate, Dan Freeman, a safety-management systems expert at Boeing, told me.
That's very interesting
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Relaxing the masking standards may still not be a wise choice at this time.
This might be behind the NYT paywall but maybe not since it is COVID-related.
If I’m the only person wearing a mask on a plane or subway train, in a store or at another indoor location, am I really protected from infection?
It’s true that masks work best when everyone around you is wearing one. That’s because when an infected person wears a mask, a large percentage of the infectious particles they exhale are trapped, stopping viral spread at the source. And when fewer viral particles are floating around the room, the masks others are wearing are likely to block those particles that have escaped.
But there is also plenty of evidence showing that masks protect the wearer, even when others around them are mask-free.
The amount of protection depends on the quality of the mask and how well it fits. Health experts recommend using an N95, KN95 or KF94 to protect yourself against the Omicron subvariant BA.2, which is now the dominant version of the coronavirus and is far more infectious than previous strains.
Other variables, such as how much time you are exposed to an infected person and how well a space is ventilated also will affect your risk.
On most planes, for example, the cabin air is frequently pumped through high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters that are pretty good at reducing virus transmission. But that doesn’t completely eliminate your risk. In a modeling study published in December 2021, researchers found that passengers sitting in the same row or one row away from someone who had Covid-19 still had a high risk of being infected through direct respiratory droplets. Wearing a mask reduced the risk of infection by 54 percent.
In closed settings like a plane, it can be hard to avoid a mixed group of vaccinated and unvaccinated people, symptomatic or asymptomatic people, all of whom may transmit the coronavirus at varying levels. And the flight may not even be the riskiest part of a trip.