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Risk of COVID-19 exposure on planes 'virtually nonexistent' when masked, study shows

The study, conducted by the Department of Defense in partnership with United Airlines, was published Thursday. They ran 300 tests in a little over six months with a mannequin on a United plane. ( More...

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Susan Johnson 21
The concern is much broader. To get to an airline seat has many many more hazard hurdles. Just waiting in lines and getting through TSA and security is the danger zone.
tom seeley 22
That's exactly the point. It isn't the aircraft that worries me, it's the herding in the terminal, TSA lines, etc. Tell me when there's no risk there please.
John Bradburn 10
If you waiting until there is no risk to travel, you will never leave your home.
Mike Mohle 6
And the airport restrooms too!
Silent Bob 6
But everyone, with a few minor exceptions, is wearing a mask at the airport. And since masks are so effective the risk should be minimal right? Plus airports are generally somewhat spacious and have constant airflow which helps mitigate spread. Let’s be honest, when you consider the risk of getting COVID, and then the risk of getting seriously sick or dying from COVID, driving to and from the airport most likely remains the most dangerous part of your journey.
David Rei 14
I was really interested in this, so I located and read through the actual study today.
For context, this study appears to have been commissioned by DOD in order to assess risks for troop transport and make recommendations for use within DOD to minimize transmission risks for personnel being transported by air. It was not really designed to have applicability to the general public, but we can probably make some limited extrapolations.

The test focused on 1-3 micron particles, and the airframes were 767 and 777.
The study assumes an infected person sheds 4,000 virions per hour and that you need 1,000 virions to become infected. (People can argue about the actual ID50 for SARS-CoV-2, but 1,000 is what was assumed by the study for its calculations. For reference, I think SARS-CoV-1 was estimated to be around 280 but I might be wrong about that.)

The methodology typically did 3 breaths in different settings/configurations and then examined the airflow from those 3 breaths. Modeling/calculations were then used to extrapolate airflow over a longer period of time. This might be good enough, but it would have been interesting to see what happens with sustained breathing for an hour, or maybe testing around 700 breaths, since sometimes unexpected things happen in actual testing that aren't contemplated by modeling. Additionally, the study was careful to emphasize that it assumed one infected person instead of 2 or 3 (or more) scattered around the cabin.

When looking at the data more closely, there are some odd things happening in the tests (which highlight the limitations of models vs actual testing). Here's an example:
A simulated infectious person was installed in seat 37E, with sensors around it.
Six breaths were simulated (3 with mask and 3 without).
Some time later, six coughs were simulated (3 with masks and 3 without).
As expected, the sensors logged more particles without mask than with mask.
What was strange is that the sensor placed in seat 38D detected about half as many particles each time a cough (without mask) was simulated, compared to each time a breath (without mask) was simulated. I think we'd normally expect a cough to expel a lot more viral particles than a breath, so there is something a bit unusual happening with these results. Maybe in this case they were expelled forward, so the row behind got less, but I'm just guessing at the possible cause.

Anyway, it's an interesting study.
You can find it by googling "TRANSCOM/AMC Commercial Aircraft Cabin Aerosol Dispersion Tests"
Thank you for doing what the above article should have.
John Steiner 10
This was with properly fitted masks, no one eating or drinking, no kids without masks screaming their heads off and no congressmen refusing to wear a mask.
aurodoc 8
Every activity in life has a risk. 45000 people die in vehicle accidents annually but we still drive. Living in NorCal we risk earthquakes and wildfires but I’m still here. I have flown domestically and my family across to Europe and I felt safe on plane and in airports. You mitigate risk not eliminate it by doing the right things to protect yourself. I think the study although not scientifically proven suggests that getting the virus is possible but a pretty low risk.
Has the study undergone proper peer review?
David Rei 5
No. It is a DOD-commissioned study which was mainly for the purposes of assessing troop transport procedures. The study itself says that it has not been peer reviewed but was released to DOD right away because they need the information now and that further review will happen later.
David Rei 4
I should have added: The study is still undergoing peer review. It's been submitted for publication, but it was released early for DOD due to operational need.
Mike Webb 8
The results are encouraging, but I would feel more reassured if the party announcing the results was not an airline.
Fred Bailey 11
Would you think their test could say anything other than this?
John Wilson 7
I see the FlightAware crowd exhibits the same average split as the general population - 60% absolutely convinced the world will surely end if the slightest movement toward normalizing life is allowed, and the rest observing it all with bemusement.
Bill Butler 2
Another great observation!
woody marvel 2
copy that
Apparently not a single mannequin died of COVID-19 during the testing period, according to DoD and United Airlines data.
Bill Butler 2
Yeah, but what a great line!
WhiteKnight77 2
While not a complete test, it at least gives us an idea of what is happening on a plane, if everyone stays seated for the whole flight. They need to put that dummy on a set of tracks similar to what movie crews use for cameras and test that way.
triton2106 5
Jim Morrison was correct.....”whoever controls the media, controls the mind.”
Silent Bob: Yep, you are so right, it''s just lurking around every corner, waiting for the innocent, the unaware and the misinformed. Throw in the refusal of just one person on the plane to wear a mask and the whole 'study' goes TU. Thank you very much, I believe I will drive, walk or swim to my destination...
Silent Bob 4
Well, that is quite ironic. If you believe death from covid is lurking around every corner you really shouldn't be going anywhere. Though I must point out a large percentage of infections are occurring within families in their homes, and also in people who claim they "always" wear a mask.
mikeenderle 4
Still peddling this message I see... Decades of studies about masks out the window. Downvote it. Whatever.
Silent Bob 6
That's all well and good, but doesn't amount to much when 1) a lot of states/locales are still largely locked down and/or have quarantine restrictions, and 2) people are still afraid to go outside because of media/political induced fear. When the good Dr Fauci says even close families should avoid gathering for the holidays it just feeds into the narrative that death is lurking around every corner.
For 220,000+ people in the US it was.
Based on previous stats, about 2 million people died in the US in 2017. About 10% of that figure died solely because of COVID this year. I think it's something to be a little concerned about. Not to mention that one too many people who live to tell the tail experience other longer term issues like heart tissue inflammation and scarring.
G R Mortenson 10
You state that "About 10% of that figure [~200,000] died solely because of COVID this year." I have read about many so-called COVID case deaths that hardly were "solely because of COVID" -- like a motorcyclist in a fatal motorcycle accident but who posthumously tested positive for COVID and whose cause of death was recorded as COVID. These sort of case reports are in addition to the health related co-morbidities and teach us not to trust the veracity any of these so-called fear-mongering statistics.
paul trubits 4
Wife asks her husband if she has gotten fat during the shutdown. His answer: You weren't that thin to begin with. Cause of husband's death: Covid-19
If he died because of a motorcycle crash, then he didn't die because of covid. Not saying the stats are perfect but I'm sure it's just a small deviation.
To get from the alleged 220,000 deaths down to the 6% (14,000) who have died so far "solely because of COVID" (your words) requires far more than just a "small deviation".
Mike Mohle 4
With Covid or From Covid? That is the question..........
No, Roger, "about 10% of that figure" did NOT die "solely because of COVID this year." The CDC itself said that roughly 6% of American deaths were without any comorbidities. "Without any comorbidities" = "solely because of COVID".

So we're talking roughly 14,000 Americans so far who have died "solely because of COVID this year", NOT 220,000.

Furthermore, during the 2009/10 Swine Flu pandemic, when there were NO asinine financial incentives to label deaths as "H1N1 deaths" and the CDC did NOT issue an asinine directive to label anything and everything even suspected of being in any way tangentially related to H1N1 as an "H1N1 death", we lost 12,469 Americans to Swine Flu. That number represents the American death toll "solely because of H1N1" back then.

At 6% of 220,000 we're just a little worse than that 12,469 figure with the current Wuhan Flu death toll, ten months into this thing.
You don't die because of COVID itself, but because of the symptoms associated with COVID. Whether it be difficulty breathing, a heart attack, etc. So you can be semantic as much as you like and ignore the bigger issue at hand. Those with co-morbidities would have had a shortened lifespan, but COVID definitely sped up their due date.
Byron Russell 3
In our county with a population of 77,000+ we have had 246 cases, 8 hospitalizations and 1 "death from Covid-19". The death occurred a couple of months ago. We are still on lockdown. Someone who knew the family of the deceased reported that he was a gentleman in his 80's with advanced cancer and was not expected to live out the year. Yet he is listed as a Covid-19 death. And the rest of us must continue to cower at home.

Updated CDC estimates of survival, all patients, with or without co-morbidities, if infected with the corona virus, Table 1, :

0-19 99.997%
20-49 99.98%
50-69 99.5%
70+ 94.6%

Protect the vulnerable (elderly and those with other illnesses), quarantine the infected, and let the rest of us get on with our lives.

Regarding long term effects of infection with the virus, do a search on "post-viral infection complications" and limit your search to 2019 or earlier to eliminate Covid-19. Yes they do occur, they are common enough to be recognized but rare enough to not be a huge problem. And not unique to Covid.
pedege1 3
Finally someone speaking the truth, using the real facts and figures that are provided, but ignored by the mainstream media if it doesn’t fit their narrative. Also was this study done using N95 masks or equivalent? Or the useless masks that 99% of Americans are using and believing they are safe.
Mike Mohle 6
Yeah those bandanas are really getting it done, LOL. Talk about less than useless.
WhiteKnight77 2
The only real thing media is good for nowadays is entertainment. While this may have started with Fox News, all other 24 hour news networks have followed the same script that FN created. Nowadays the talking heads have it all about their opinion or view and not any real sense of wanting to give the facts, no matter what the story is about.
So how many in the group with co-morbitities would have died this year in the absence of COVID-19?

If a child runs done a hallway and bumps into a table, knocking a vase onto the floor, did the vase break because the child bumped into the table or did it break because it was on a table in a hallway?
G R Mortenson 3
David, IMHO, you are missing the main point. Life carries with it lots of risks -- being hit by lightning, getting into a bad car crash, being run over, failure to have your parachute open when skydiving, cancer, heart attack, fatal flu, plague, flesh-eating bacteria, death by IUD in the military, etc. etc. etc.

Life is not risk-free, nor will it ever be risk-free. In the meantime, we need to live a life, have a family, hold a job, etc. The degree of fear mongering about the use of cloth or paper masks to stop a COVID infection is just factually wrong -- the virus is far smaller than the weave holes in a cloth or paper mask or the gaps created by just wearing it.

Should we take reasonable and effective precautions? Again, IMHO, the answer is yes, but it is a question adults in our society can and should decide as individuals.
The point is 220,000 people have so far died largely because of gross disregard for science and decency and likely criminal negligence by the Administration and many state governments.

As for “death by IUD”, I’m sure Judge Barrett will fix that....
John Bradburn 3
So the 70,000 - 100,000 flu deaths the U.S. experiences each year are 'because of gross disregard for science and decency and likely criminal negligence by government Administrations'?

Judge Barrett? You need to move on from that set of talking points - try calling everyone who disagrees with you 'racist'!
WhiteKnight77 1
This is not the only area someone overlooks more deaths by another means and accepts them as a way of life.
s s 3
Before the dreaded COVID up to 100,000 Americans died in years when the "normal" flu was particularly bad. Going forward, will there ever again be a time when people aren't clinging to bits of cotton and string like a magical talisman saving them from the Grim Reaper? Because if you can save just a single life with a mask, why not just make the damned things permanent so there will never be another flu death?
MrTommy 4
I fear that's truer than you think. Keep us all shaking in our boots. That way, we aren't as likely to notice politicians slowly taking our rights away. If it weren't for 24/7 "coverage" of this bs, we wouldn't even know there was anything going on.
The only people shaking in their booties are those who think that being asked to wear a mask in order to protect those around them is some sort of massive assault on their liberty.
s s 1
David, have you always worn a mask? If the flu kills tens of thousands every year and you haven't been wearing a mask, or maybe went to work feeling under the weather but not so bad you had to stay home, you haven't been protecting people all this time.
I get a flu shot every fall. Haven’t had the flu in decades. Since March I wear a mask when I go out (it’s the law in my state and more importantly common courtesy). Nice try!
WhiteKnight77 1
I do not get a flu shot, at least since I am not in the military anymore. Getting such then made me feel ill for a few days. I have not had a flu shot in 30+ years and have yet to come down with the flu.
s s -1
LOL You mean the flu shot that in past years has only been 10 - 20% effective?
Yeah, how many years was that, Chuckles?
WhiteKnight77 3
This would be better for those who do not understand the numbers on your page. This shows that it is typically 40-60% effective.
Gloria Cruz 0
And soon as they stop reporting on it, you'll be screaming they are hiding something 214k+ deaths in 7 mos doesn't sound like a rush to scare. Can't win for losing with this group
Rick King 2
What a farce. United and American are selling out flights, so if you have an aisle seat in coach, you are exposed to 29 strangers. Let's do the math. 2 rows in front of you, the row you occupy, and 2 rows behind, 5 rows, 6 passengers, 30 people, you occupy one seat, 29 strangers.
If it is the most contagious, deadliest virus, why can masks come off when they serve food and water? I am calling the BS card you phony pieces of, well you know. Masks can stay off as long as you are sipping on your water or nibbling on your snacks. If they were serious, there should be no food or water.
But the airlines have taken an attitude of COMPLY OR ELSE COMRADE OR WE WILL THROW YOU OFF!
They suck. All of them. Some of the treatment I have seen and experienced is nothing short of
totalitarianism. Plain and simple.
zuluzuluzulu 2
I cant help but think this is a flawed test.

1) Not all aircraft are created equal. Try this test on several models of jets
2) use enough breathing mannequins to simulate an85% load factor
3) have people walk up and down the aisles to draght air
4) swab surfaces.
alan curtis 1
5) do the test for hours as masks become saturated with virus and droplets that are evaporating and getting smaller
6) tray tables up and down with laptops
alan curtis 1
I would think a simple thing like tray-tables down with laptops and their associated fans would significantly change the airflow in a cabin, not to mention other bodies actually moving around and also creating heated air spaces. For that matter, was the simulated breathing done with 98.7 degree air, or just room temp?

If this was a "Vaccine Test", it would never be approved...
patrick baker 1
it seems geting through the getting to the door of the aircraft- tsa, walking through terminal. walking from the parking, and finallly going down the jetway to the open door- all these are potential hot spots, but don't worry: we will all be much safer sitting amongst each other in our comfortable seats in our roomy passenger cabin, with clean, safe fresh air abounding. For hours and hours. And of course the gauntlet of the aircraft restroom- germ city with a toilet... If there are sanitary lights that kill the covid germs, well lets decorate the cabins with them. Prudent people assess risks before they become captive passengers.
Good. Fly. Thank you.
Carl Foster 1
Really? Masks don't actually filter exhaled air. All they do is re-direct it. Check this out:
Forward to 1:10 to skip the intro.
If UAL plugged my trusty ol' 22001 up to deck O2, sure.
hal pushpak -1
Jeez, how bogus! This was an aerosol test. Cough aerosols are > 1.0 micron. The virus is 0.1 micron! Those blue (non-N95) masks might stop aerosols, but pretty useless to airborne viruses. Proof: At the super-spreader event at the White House Rose Garden (outdoors, mind you) the infected guests weren't all being coughed at! And if they were, well, unmasked was de rigeur..
That said, I'd admit that it's a mystery how cabin attendants have (mostly) dodged the bullets.
The bigger point to make is that modern aircraft change air 3-4 times a minute...scrubbed through HEPA or ULPA filter banks. Their efficiency 99.98% at .03 mocron for HEPA and .02 for ULPA. So, aerosols containing COVID-19 are rapidly and frequently scrubbed from the cabin air. That's why cabin crews haven't been dropping like flies...and why you don't hear airftraft as superspreader "events".
80+ % COVID cases are from mask users. Fine to use mask, but more a placebo. Death from COVID real, of course. What's not is the reported number.
Should we take your word or the words of the study, which doesn’t reach your conclusion.

“ In this investigation, participants with and without COVID-19 reported generally similar community exposures, with the excep- tion of going to locations with on-site eating and drinking options. Adults with confirmed COVID-19 (case-patients) were approximately twice as likely as were control-participants to have reported dining at a restaurant in the 14 days before becoming ill. In addition to dining at a restaurant, case-patients were more likely to report going to a bar/coffee shop, but only when the analysis was restricted to participants without close contact with persons with known COVID-19 before illness onset.”
E Kuhn 2
Source? That is neither believable, nor documented.
aurodoc 0
Apparently not in the Rose garden
Kay Melcher -3
This is the most irresponsible reporting I have ever seen. The virus is not spread by particles, as we now know. It is aerosol, floating in the air, and confined spaces like planes are the deadliest environments on earth.
E Kuhn -3
I really don't know how you can argue with 8 million Corona cases in the US, 39 million world-wide, 218.000 deaths in the States, 1.1 million world-wide.

You would have to be trumpish to push those numbers away as irrelevant, no ?
s s 2
It's all about TDS, isn't it?

[This comment has been downvoted. Show anyway.]

And your evidence to this is........?
Kevin Holly -3
Is anyone else wondering why the DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE is doing this? I'm not sure I trust ANY government agency right now when it comes to anything COVID-19 related.
terry gersdorf -4
Bull Shit wonder how much tax payer money was spent on this worthless experiment
D Rotten -7

Just look up.......
'CDC Study: Overwhelming Majority Of COVID Patients Wore Masks'

Not to mention the TENS of THOUSANDS of REAL Doctors and REAL Scientists who state the FACT that masks to not work and are unhealthy!
Here's the actual study, which says that if you wear a mask but remove it while patronizing restaurants and bars, you're liable to contract COVID-19:

You'll be happy to know that the team that will be performing your next surgery knows that your last sentence is complete bullshit!

Perhaps you should learn how to gather facts instead of creating them out of thin air.
Carl Foster 1
OK. Let's gather facts instead of creating them out of thin air.

Dr. Orr was a surgeon in the Severalls Surgical Unit in Colchester. For six months, from March through August 1980, the surgeons and staff in that unit decided to see what would happen if they did not wear masks during surgeries. They wore no masks for six months and compared the rate of surgical wound infections from March through August 1980 with the rate of wound infections from March through August of the previous four years.

And they discovered, to their amazement, that when nobody wore masks during surgeries, the rate of wound infections was less than half what it was when everyone wore masks. Their conclusion: ‘It would appear that minimum contamination can best be achieved by not wearing a mask at all’ and that wearing a mask during surgery ‘is a standard procedure that could be abandoned.’

The medical literature for the past forty-five years has been consistent: masks are useless in preventing the spread of disease and, if anything, are unsanitary objects that themselves spread bacteria and viruses.

• Ritter et al., in 1975, found that ‘the wearing of a surgical face mask had no effect upon the overall operating room environmental contamination.’
• Ha’eri and Wiley, in 1980, applied human albumin microspheres to the interior of surgical masks in 20 operations. At the end of each operation, wound washings were examined under the microscope. ‘Particle contamination of the wound was demonstrated in all experiments.’
• Laslett and Sabin, in 1989, found that caps and masks were not necessary during cardiac catheterization. ‘No infections were found in any patient, regardless of whether a cap or mask was used,’ they wrote. Sjøl and Kelbaek came to the same conclusion in 2002.
• In Tunevall’s 1991 study, a general surgical team wore no masks in half of their surgeries for two years. After 1,537 operations performed with masks, the wound infection rate was 4.7%, while after 1,551 operations performed without masks, the wound infection rate was only 3.5%.
• A review by Skinner and Sutton in 2001 concluded that ‘The evidence for discontinuing the use of surgical face masks would appear to be stronger than the evidence available to support their continued use.’
• Lahme et al., in 2001, wrote that ‘surgical face masks worn by patients during regional anaesthesia, did not reduce the concentration of airborne bacteria over the operation field in our study. Thus, they are dispensable.’
• Figueiredo et al., in 2001, reported that in five years of doing peritoneal dialysis without masks, rates of peritonitis in their unit were no different than rates in hospitals where masks were worn.
• Bahli did a systematic literature review in 2009 and found that ‘no significant difference in the incidence of postoperative wound infection was observed between masks groups and groups operated with no masks.’
• Surgeons at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, recognizing the lack of evidence supporting the use of masks, ceased requiring them in 2010 for anesthesiologists and other non-scrubbed personnel in the operating room. ‘Our decision to no longer require routine surgical masks for personnel not scrubbed for surgery is a departure from common practice. But the evidence to support this practice does not exist,’ wrote Dr. Eva Sellden.
• Webster et al., in 2010, reported on obstetric, gynecological, general, orthopaedic, breast and urological surgeries performed on 827 patients. All non-scrubbed staff wore masks in half the surgeries, and none of the non-scrubbed staff wore masks in half the surgeries.
• Lipp and Edwards reviewed the surgical literature in 2014 and found ‘no statistically significant difference in infection rates between the masked and unmasked group in any of the trials.’ Vincent and Edwards updated this review in 2016 and the conclusion was the same.
• Carøe, in a 2014 review based on four studies and 6,006 patients, wrote that ‘none of the four studies found a difference in the number of post-operative infections whether you used a surgical mask or not.’
• Salassa and Swiontkowski, in 2014, investigated the necessity of scrubs, masks and head coverings in the operating room and concluded that ‘there is no evidence that these measures reduce the prevalence of surgical site infection.’
• Da Zhou et al., reviewing the literature in 2015, concluded that ‘there is a lack of substantial evidence to support claims that face masks protect either patient or surgeon from infectious contamination.
WhiteKnight77 2
The real problem is not what people necessarily breathe in, but exhale. The best mask would have an organic vapor/biological filter for both the inlet and the outlet. That would help decrease transmission of such virii og any sort, nut people would need to insure proper cleaning of them, and means no wearing of exessively large mustaches and no beards.


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