Maintaining masking in air travel ‘still a really good idea’

Countries are easing COVID-19 restrictions, but experts say it makes sense to keep mask requirements on airline flights. That’s because even though air travel is low risk, it’s not no-risk.

A March 1, 2022 Stuff article noted that the risk of contracting COVID-19 onboard a plane is low, since cabin air is a combination of fresh and highly filtered air. Still, there have been instances of COVID-19 transmission on flights, and planes’ filtering systems aren’t usually on while people are boarding or disembarking, according to experts quoted in the article. In addition, people have to spend time in airports going through security, waiting in the boarding lounge, and lining up to get on and off the plane.

Masking can help offset these risks, according to Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative (NPLI)—a joint program of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Kennedy School—and co-director of NPLI’s Aviation Public Health Initiative. He told Stuff that masks can reduce the likelihood of getting COVID-19 by around 50% and can also reduce a person’s chance of transmitting COVID-19 by around 50%. “If you put that together—so you’ve got a lot of people on an airplane, everybody’s wearing a mask—you’ve done something, in combination with the ventilation system, that really reduces the likelihood of transmission,” he said.

Marcus said he hopes that the air travel mask mandate in the U.S., set to expire on March 18, will be extended. “You don’t want to be translocating the disease—taking it from a place where there’s very high transmission to a place where there’s lower transmission,” he said. “Taking particular care when people are in transit at this point of the pandemic is still a really good idea.”

Read the Stuff article: Covid-19: Why are face masks necessary on flights?