How well do the masks work? Do they make it safe to fly across the country for a family visit?
Early in the coronavirus pandemic, air travel looked like a risky endeavor. Some scientists even worried that airplanes could be sites of superspreading events. For example, in March a Vietnamese businesswoman with a sore throat and a cough boarded a flight in London. Ten hours later, she landed in Hanoi, Vietnam; she infected 15 people on the flight, including more than half of the passengers sitting with her in business class.
Then in April, airlines shifted course. Many started requiring passengers to wear masks on planes — and some airlines even enforced the policy. Just on Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it now “strongly recommends” all passengers and crew members wear masks.
So the big question is this: How well do the masks work? Do they make it safe to fly across the country for a family visit?
Scientists are just beginning to answer that question. And their findings offer a glimmer of hope as well as fresh ideas about what’s most important for protecting yourself on a plane.
The new evidence comes largely from Hong Kong, where health officials have been meticulously testing — and tracking — all passengers who land in the city. “They test everybody by PCR on arrival, quarantine them in single rooms for 14 days and then test the passengers again,” says infectious disease doctor David O. Freedman at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. So health officials there know which passengers boarded the plane while already infected with the virus and whether they could have infected anyone else on the plane.
Freedman and his colleague have been analyzing these data, with a specific focus on one airline: Emirates.Learn More