Experiment shows risks of air travel while masked

A landmark study from the Department of Defense and United Airlines conducted 300 tests in over six months with dummies in-flight to examine the possible spread of droplets.
5:04 | 10/15/20

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Transcript for Experiment shows risks of air travel while masked
We'll continue now with covid and air travel. A new study out this morning seeking to answer a major question as we head into holiday travel season. Just how risky is it? Our transportation correspondent gio Benitez is at Laguardia airport with all of that for us. Good morning, gio. Reporter: Hey, robin, good morning to you. This is being called a landmark study talking about hundreds of tests in flight and on the ground and the results may surprise you. This morning with a mannequin on board we're getting a look at how particles may move through an airplane. The department of defense working with united airlines conducting 300 tests over six the mannequin reproducing breathing and coughing with and without a mask. When the dummy wore a mask the results were encouraging. Though they haven't been peer reviewed. The risk of transmission is virtually nonexistent? Virtually nonexistent. This is a U.S. Military study. Reporter: Here's how the tests worked. The mannequin was equipped with an aerosol generator and would cough with the mask on and off and breathe and using 40 sensors to detect the droplets researchers found with the mask on only 0. 003% of particles made their way into another passenger's breathing zone but the team didn't attempt to replicate what might happen when the infected person stands up or moves through the cabin. I'm not standing here telling people I know exactly what they should do but what I am telling people if you are inclined to travel or thinking about it, there is reason today based on this independent study that you can feel confident that you can travel safely on an airplane. Reporter: The study reflected similar earlier study that is found a plane's unique airflow helps minimize risk. On a plane airflows down not front to back. This helps limit person-to-person airflow. A Hepa filter eliminating 99.99% of airborne particles including viruses every two to three minutes. Just last week the international air transport association released new research saying the risk of contracting the virus on a plane appears to be in the same category as being struck by lightning. Among 1.2 billion travelers they found just 44 published cases of potential in-flight transmission. Mostly in the early days of the pandemic when masks weren't required. This study is confirming that among all the different places where one can get infected, flights might actually be one of the safest places to be. Reporter: Remember, flying involves more than a plane. As more people start traveling for the holidays airports will also get busier, so experts remind us it's critical to wear that mask as you walk into the airport, go through security, board that airplane, sit through the flight and land at your destination. And there are some caveats to the study. They used only one kind of mask, a surgical one and simulated just one sick passenger on a completely full plane but clearly, robin, this was an extensive study and gives us a real clue. It does. Thank you. For more now we'll bring Dr. Dr. Ashish jha, the Dean of brown university school of public health. We always appreciate your input. You heard gio's report. What is your takeaway from this study? Good morning, robin. Thank you for having me on. I think it's good ne. Again, I have felt since really since the early days of the pandemic that airplane -- airline flights are not the most dangerous thing especially if people are wearing masks. The big issue, of course, is it's not just the airplane, it's the jetways, it's all the other stuff. If people are careful I think flying can be pretty safe. As you said all the other stuff, it's getting to the airport. It's standing in line. It's checking your bags, all those things, how concerned are you about that and what can we do to protect ourselves? Yes, so the single most important thing is mask wearing. If everybody in the airport is wearing a mask, I think that would make an enormous difference. I think the second part is avoiding kind of crowding and bunching up. We've all been on jetways that get crowded. Airlines can do a good job of making sure that doesn't happen F there are basic commonsense procedures taking place it could be pretty safe. Mass transit, buses and trains, what can we do there? Yeah, you know, the early days there was a lot of concern those were major sorts of spread. As evidence has come in it doesn't look like that's true. I will sound like a broken record, again, it's about wearing masks and making sure they're not getting super buss that keep the number of passengers to a moderate amount, same thing with trains, I think can be pretty safe as long as people are wearing masks. It's not a broken record at all, Dr. Jha. Cannot say that, overstate that enough. Thank you. Always appreciate your input. Thank you, sir. Take care.

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