Airlines have loudly insisted that it’s safe to fly during the coronavirus pandemic, and U.S. travel is surging before the Thanksgiving holiday despite a nationwide spike in virus cases.
Yet top U.S. infectious disease experts say the findings underpinning the carriers’ safety claims aren’t that conclusive.
Concerned about the “misinterpretation” of their findings, researchers on a Defense Department study that has been widely cited by the industry added a cautionary revision. A senior expert in travel-health issues declined to participate in an airline trade group’s press conference, citing what he called their “bad math.”
“The airline industry got a little ahead of itself trying to say the risk is zero,” said David Freedman, a University of Alabama at Birmingham professor emeritus who balked at appearing with an International Air Transport Association event that cited his work.
U.S. airlines, hit with an unprecedented drop in demand since the virus began spreading widely in March, are enjoying their strongest week since then. Even as health officials warn against travel during the Thanksgiving holiday because of a surge in Covid-19 cases, more than 4 million people traversed airports between Friday and Monday.
The risk of being infected with the novel coronavirus on planes — which have highly effective filters that remove virus from the air and where mask usage is required — is probably fairly low, scientists say.
But the research is far from clear and some recent cases have documented transmission on flights even when passengers wore masks and sat far apart, according to a review of recent cases and interviews with academics and disease specialists.
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