It's been 9 months!
Not nine months of the enthusiastic anticipation and unbridled excitement of pregnancy, but more like nine long months of middle school while grounded at home with both parents for the unforeseeable future. Oh yeah!
THIS is COVID.
THIS is 2020.
(And, maybe 2021!)
So, if you find yourself contemplating air travel for an emergency (yikes!), for your sanity (we get it!), or well...just for old time's sake, here's what you need to know:
- THE FAA PROMISES THAT FLYING IS $AFE
We all want to believe this as truth but given these super high stakes, we really need some proof. We're told that airplane air filtration and ventilation systems are meant to stop the spread of infectious diseases by filtering and replacing the air 20 or 30 times per hour. And, with air flowing from above one's head to below one's feet it should (theoretically) reduce horizontal spread of spewed droplets in the plane's cabin. But, we also know from our own experiences that airplanes can be dirty and germ laden...
Recognizing that customers were reluctant to accept simple assurances regarding air travel safety, the airline industry commissioned researchers to assess the risk of flying using mathematical models to try to figure out the likelihood of the virus spreading, and using contact tracing with genome sequencing to confirm actual spread. Both models showed that airplanes are pretty safe — under ideal conditions.
In the Department of Defense study sponsored by the airlines, mannequins were equipped with nebulizers to mimic real human breathing and their "breath" was marked with a fluorescent marker to monitor results in real time. According to the study, it would take 54 hours for someone sitting next to an infected passenger to contract COVID indicating that risk of spread via air travel was low.
In a Harvard study sponsored by Airlines for America, an industry trade association, researchers developed a mathematical model based on what’s known about ventilation systems and arrived at similar conclusions about air travel safety.
Sounds reassuring, right? But, wait! What about the several documented examples of coronavirus spread via air travel in real-world examples published in the Journal of Travel Medicine and confirmed via contract-tracing and genetic sequencing? Studies exist that have confirmed transmission both prior to and after the implementation of COVID safety protocols.
- HERE'S WHAT THE DOCTORS SAY:
Both models supporting safe air travel were imperfect. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Department of Defense study had numerous limitations. For starters, the researchers assumed that only one person aboard the plane was infected, that everyone was wearing masks at all times, and that the single infected passenger remained seated and faced forward for the entire flight. Secondly, the JAMA article pointed out that researchers only considered small droplets emitted from routine breathing and did not consider larger droplets that could emerge from someone coughing.
Regarding the Harvard study, doctors are quick to point out that the data was not validated through peer review. In addition, co-author Dr. Freedman, a Harvard professor of immunology and infectious disease, acknowledged that the study did not account for behaviors such as standing less than 6 feet apart while boarding, waiting to use the bathroom or deplaning, walking up and down the aisles, and eating and drinking. In addition, Dr. Freedman noted that the models were based on the assumption that the plane's ventilation system would be running at full speed for the duration of the flight. He noted that typically, ventilation systems are not fully on during boarding, taxiing, or sitting at the gate --- the times when most passengers are likely to crowd together. During these times, he pointed out that the air is less than perfectly filtered.
- BOTTOM LINE: SHOULD YOU FLY?
Given all the flying that's occurred during the pandemic, and the relatively few well-documented cases of spread, the airline industry continues to argue that there is a low incidence of COVID-19 transmission. Harvard's Dr. Freedman sees it differently, stating: "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."
Most doctors believe that without a doubt, airplanes can be vectors that carry infectious people around the country and around the globe. And, modeling studies and contact tracing studies both tell us that COVID-19 definitely spreads on planes, though it’s not clear how often this happens. So if you are considering travel, you might want to think long and hard about it: do you really need to go?
- AND, IF YOU DECIDE TO FLY, HOW DO YOU MINIMIZE RISK?
You probably understand that you can neither escape risk associated with other people's behaviors on the flight, nor control them. But, if you need to fly for an emergency, or if after evaluating your own risk tolerance you decide to fly, heres how you can minimize your risk:
Choose an airline who commits to social distancing because according to Dr. Freedman's research, it is best to fly when at least 40% of the seats are unoccupied.
Wear your mask at all times. Do not remove your mask --- even to eat or drink. Avoid touching your face, but consider covering your eyes for added protection. Recognize that face shields are not a substitute for a mask and make sure your bring an extra mask in case the one you are wearing gets dirty or breaks.
Select a window seat, face the window as much as possible, and turn on the overhead air vent. Sanitize the surfaces around you and clean your hands with a solution that contains at least 70% alcohol.
Secure global emergency medical transport coverage prior to traveling because one in 30 trips end in a medical emergency requiring medical transport that can cost $30,000-$180,000, and health insurance and most credit card travel benefits do not fully cover medical transport even in an emergency!
Dr. Yagoda has been committed to your health, wellness, safety and beauty for the last 25 years and she will continue to do so especially during the pandemic. There is good reason that Dr. Yagoda is the one other doctors choose when they want the very best. Call us at 212.434.1210 or email us at info@DrYagoda.com to schedule your experience.