Is Air Travel Safe?
Many people are considering their travel options both for work an leisure in a world dominated by the fear of catching (and transmitting) COVID-19
Does coronavirus spread on airplanes?
Yes. The data is still coming in but there is a known March 2 flight from the United Kingdom to Vietnam where it is believed that a single passenger transmitted the virus to as many as 15 others including a crew member. As would be expected 12 of the passengers were sitting close to the suspected infected individual.
An informal survey of 18 major airlines has thus far identified at least four more episodes of transmission in the first quarter of 2020
Do other similar viruses also spread on planes?
Yes. Viruses which spread through coughing, sneezing and breathing such as influenza and SARS are known to have spread on aircraft. SARS - itself a coronavirus - is believed to have been carried by passengers on at least 40 fights and caused transmission to other passengers. Studies find that the closer to the infected person - the greater the risk
Why is risk of transmission risky on flights?
COVID-19 is very contagious and when emitted from the noses and mouths of the infected, these droplets can then transmit the virus in particular through the mouth, nose or eyes. Additionally close proximity when sitting, waiting in lines, shopping in the food halls and using public bathrooms all add to the risks.
What about aerosols?
While transmission via smaller particles than droplets - known as aerosols can float in the air longer and can be thus inhaled the risk is believed to be lower. Additionally due to the modern aircraft ventilation systems in use - the risk is further mitigated by such things as HEPA filters which should mitigate the risk of this sort of spread. The air on a plane is generally a 50-50 mix of sterile outside air and recirculated cabin air that’s been filtered. According to Airbus SE and Boeing Co., all their aircraft are fitted with HEPA filters, which capture particles as small as the virus.
Most airlines have or are making the wearing of face masks mandatory and passengers have been taken off fights for non-compliance.
What can airlines do to lower risk of the spread of COVID-19?
There are many actions airlines can and are taking to mitigate risks from the more frequent cleaning of aircraft to reducing lines when possible and maintain social distancing. Contactless payments and interactions are being introduced in a variety of situations as is the availability of hand sanitisers. Some airlines have chosen to limit the number of passengers on flights including leaving middle seat empty. Additionally the mandated use of masks by crew and passengers is instrumental in reducing spread.
Clean Your Phone
This is important. Always wipe down your phone. You know not to touch your face and to wash your hands, but your phone is likely with you at every step of your day, exposed to an endless stream of germs and a high risk for transmission. And chances are while you’ve learned not to touch your face, you touch your phone and then your phone touches your face.
- Wipe it down thoroughly, at least once a day
- Take the case off and sanitize it with a wipe or a paper towel with hand sanitizer.
- Avoid any ports so you don’t get liquids inside.
- Take the case off and wipe that down separately, inside and out.
- Let it air dry for a few minutes before putting it back on.
- Use speakerphone whenever possible to avoid face contamination (but don’t be rude in public)
- Use a head phone for private calls
- Wipe down the surface regularly
- Don’t take your phone into the bathroom
Public and Shared Bathrooms
- Use toilet seat covers
- Don’t touch anything with an uncovered hand, use a paper towel to open stall doors, flush.
- Don’t place items on flat surfaces.
- Use you’re the back of your hand to turn the faucet on or off whenever possible, more importantly turning it off, and use soap and water to wash your hands.
- If there is an option, choose the paper towels to dry your hands, not the air blowers.
- Never use reuseable towels in a public bathroom.
- When opening the door to leave, use your foot or use a paper towel on the door handle.
Your Home & Car
You know to clean your house but pay particular attention to those areas where people are entering after being in the public, possibly exposed.
- Wipe down outside and inside door handles
- Wipe down counters after groceries or deliveries have been put away
- Wash all new clothing that is delivered
- Wipe down all surfaces in your car that you touched, inside and out, including door handles, gear shifts, steering wheel, radio knobs, trunk latches, etc
- If you live in a building with public spaces, avoid touching shared spaces as much as possible, and if you have to, use a tissue or paper towel that you can dispose of between each touch point. Wash or sanitize your hands as soon as possible after using these. That includes:
- Elevator buttons (use your knuckles if possible)
- Stair railings
- Door handles (when possible use your hip or leg to gently push doors open)
- Mail boxes
- If you’re ordering food or groceries, use no contact delivery options whenever possible
- Wash your hands after receiving the deliveries
- Always tip and tip well
- If you’ve ordered take out food, use your own plates, don’t eat out of the containers the food came in.
- Pay online by credit card whenever possible
- If you have to pay by cash, put the money in an envelope so they aren’t touching it directly.
- If you cannot do no contact delivery, wear a face mask and stay at least 6 feet apart.
- Curbside Pick up
- Pay online by credit card whenever possible
- Wear a mask when picking up just in case they need to speak with you.
- Have your trunk ready so they don’t have to wait and break social distancing
- Tip, and tip well
- Be patient and understanding
- Show up at the scheduled time, on time.
- If necessary, communicate through the open passenger-side window, not the driver’s side, to protect them from oncoming traffic, and to maintain social distance.
- If you encounter resistance – Just walk away.
Anyone resisting social distancing or flouting the recommendations isn’t likely someone who would be open to discussion or convincing. Engaging in discussions will only escalate the tension and risk exposure. If you are uncomfortable, notify management if possible, and get to safety.
General Health: Maintain your general health during this pandemic.
- Continue to take all medications
- Eat healthy
- Maintain healthy sleep habits
- Exercise regularly
- Understand that this is a stressful time and we are all unsure and need reassurances. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Don’t accept easy answers or explanations. This is a time when careful vigilance is needed, and that applies to news and information, too.
- If you aren’t feeling well, even if it’s unrelated to Covid 19, call your doctor’s office.
- If you have a medical emergency, do not avoid the emergency room. You can have someone call ahead to find a separate entrance or timing, if you have that option, but do not risk not going if you need to.
- Dental emergencies happen, too. Call your dentist if you have a problem. Remember dentists are used to practicing very strong hygiene habits and are prepared for safe, effective treatment.
- You don’t need a haircut that badly. Wear a hat, try different styles, use product to contain it.
- Connect with friends and colleagues online through chats or video conferencing
- Find religious services online
- Seek out recovery support resources and online meetings.
- Find classes, new networking groups online, learn new skills, broaden your world
Can Covid 19 be prevented?
While there isn’t yet a vaccine to prevent Covid 19, there are things you can do to reduce your chances of getting it. These steps are good for everyone, but are especially important for those at higher risk, such as older people or those with other health conditions that could make them more prone to get the disease if exposed.
Practice social distancing.
This is to avoid contact with people who are sick, whether they have symptoms or not, since you can have the disease without knowing it.
Social distancing means avoiding close contact with those who you don’t already live with. It’s also called physical distancing.
Social distancing means avoiding crowds, even small ones, as much as you can. The best way to do this is to stay at home, but if you need to go out, try your best to keep your physical distance from others. Stay at least 6 feet, or 2 meters, apart, and wear a face mask or covering if you can.
Wash your hands with soap and water often.
Washing your hands is especially important if you’ve been out in public or touching items that others have touched. This includes getting your mail or deliveries.
Use soap and water, rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds, and be sure to wash your wrists, fingernails, and between your fingers. When you’ve done this for at least 20 seconds, rinse them and dry them with a paper towel that you can throw away.
If you aren’t near a sink you can use hand sanitizer to clean your hands. You’ll want a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol in it to be effective, but whenever possible, soap and water works best.
Avoid touching your face, especially your mouth, nose, and eyes.
Covid 19 and other viruses enter your body most easily through your mouth, nose, and eyes, so if you’ve been in contact with the virus, touching your face increases the chance that you can become infected.
Avoid traveling if you can.
Obviously you’ll want to avoid traveling to known hot spots, where there are large outbreaks of the virus, but any form of travel increases your risk of exposure, especially if you have to be in crowded places like airports. Traveling also spreads the virus around the country and the world. This makes it harder to contain.
Can Someone Who Doesn't Have Symptoms Spread the Virus?
A person can be infected and spread the Covid 19 virus to others even without having any symptoms. That’s why keeping people apart is one of the best ways to slow the spread.
How is Covid 19 spread?
It is now thought that the spread of Coronavirus occurs mainly through close contact from person-to-person with proximity, length of exposure and the indoors each increasing probability of transmission.
The role of people who have COVID-19 but are without symptoms is not fully determined but it is believed that they may in some cases be able to spread the virus. What we do know is that the size of the exposure can be a determinant of the severity of the disease in individual patients in addition to other risk factors (such as number and severity of health problems)
In spreading from person to person the mechanism is:
Respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks can enter the lungs of uninfected individuals and pass the disease as the droplets land in the mouths or noses of people nearby- additionally the droplets may be inhaled into the lungs.
The virus spreads easily
One of the things that has made COVID-19 the global pandemic it is - is the fact that the virus spreads relatively easily. It is very contagious and can also continue to spread “sustainably” to new people.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading more very easily between people than influenza for example but less so than measles.
The probability of spread increases with the more closely and the longer a person interacts with others.
Can you get the virus from a surface.
While not by any means the main way the virus spreads it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 through touching a surface that has the virus on it and then transmitting that to their mouth, nose and rarely it is believed, the eyes.
I heard I can get sick from wearing a face mask because of Carbon Dioxide, is this true?
Generally, no. The myth that one can get carbon dioxide poisoning, or hypoxia, from wearing a face mask and breathing in your own expelled breath is unlikely. Non-medical face masks aren’t sealed to the face, therefore air and CO2 circulate in and out of the mask, and they’re typically not worn for a prolonged period of time.
There’s always an increased risk for anyone with a pre-existing underlying health condition, including anxiety, that may cause other symptoms, but in most cases these aren’t significant. If you have concerns about wearing a mask with your respiratory condition, check with your doctor.
For healthcare workers who do wear tighter fitting medical masks or respirators and wear them for a prolonged period of time, the risk may be higher, but they also receive additional training on this. If you’re wearing a medical mask or respirator, be sure to use it properly, to avoid any further health risks or concerns.
Who should wear Medical Masks?
Anyone working in health care settings or serving as a caregiver for patients with or suspected of having Covid 19 should wear medical masks, or respirators, such as the N95 or FFP2 masks. They should also use other personal protective equipment (PPE) and heightened hygiene, such as social and physical distancing when possible, and frequent hand washing.
The following people should choose medical masks over non-medical masks:
- Healthcare workers
- Whenever possible, medical masks and respirators should be reserved for healthcare workers. They are the most exposed and are in regular, extended close contact with patients with or suspected of having Covid 19.
- People who are sick and exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19
- People who are sick, even those who only have mild symptoms, should quarantine whenever possible, and wear a medical mask. This will help in keeping them from transmitting the virus to others and to surfaces. The virus is spread through coughing, sneezing, or even talking, and spread through droplets, which can come in contact with the faces and hands of others directly, or land on surfaces that are then touched by others.
- Anyone taking care of a person at home who is sick with COVID-19
- If you are in close frequent contact with someone who is sick with Covid 19, either as a caregiver or provider, as you are facing repeated exposure to the virus, the medical masks can help protect, somewhat. Again, it’s important to continue to practice as much social distancing, avoiding unnecessary physical contact whenever possible, and frequent hand washing, cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing.
Should Children wear masks?
The CDC recommends that all children over the age of 2 wear a mask in public. You should select a mask that is the appropriate size, either a small bandana or a child size mask, so that it fits properly and doesn’t cover their whole face or restrict their breathing.
Anyone, including a child, with an existing respiratory illness should speak with their doctor first.
Are Non-Medical Masks effective in reducing the spread of Covid 19?
While there is a lot of information floating around about the effectiveness and dangers of using face masks, except for health care workers and caregivers, the use of non-medical face masks has shown to be effective in spreading the virus, especially for those people who are not sick, have mild symptoms, or are asymptomatic.
Healthcare workers and caregivers, and those regularly exposed to others with or suspected to have the virus, should not rely on a non-medical mask. This will offer a false sense of safety in a setting where prolonged exposure is likely. These individuals should instead where medical masks and personal protective gear for their own safety.
What is a Non-Medical Mask?
Non-medical masks are general face coverings that are often homemade using breathable fabrics. There are other masks that can be bought commercially. These masks cover the face and nose, secure with elastic over the ears or ties behind the head and neck and typically don’t have filters, like the N95 masks, although some designs include an option to add additional filter options in the mask. Non-medical masks can sometimes be washed and reused.
There are many patterns and designs for making masks at home, and now there are any number of stores and groups making masks for people. Scarves or bandanas can also be used as a face mask.
Are Gas Stations Safe?
For the most part, yes. If you are pumping your own gas make sure you disinfect your hands before touching the pump, that includes not only pumping the gas but also selecting the type and amount. Use your knuckles rather than your fingers on the touch screens, and be sure to wipe down your credit card after using it. Wear a mask.
Can I go to the park?
Yes. It’s important to exercise and stay active and exercise, not only to for physical fitness, but also for your mental and emotional wellbeing. Many parks are open and you can walk, ride, or run on the trails. It’s a great way to get out and safely connect with others but be careful and take precautions.
- Visit parks that are nearby. There’s no reason to take additional risks required by traveling longer distances, including accessing public spaces, gas stations, and bathrooms
- Prepare before you go: make sure the park is open and allowing visitors, and what facilities and restrictions are currently in place.
- Continue to practice social distancing, staying at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from others not in your household, and avoid touching surfaces. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after touching anything and avoid using any public water fountains.
- If you have your dog with you, keep the dog on leash and avoid risking contact with others, including other dogs or people.
- Don’t go to public parks or areas if you’re sick or have been recently exposed to Covid 19.
- Don’t visit when the parks are crowded.
- Don’t use the playgrounds or exercise equipment.
- Don’t take part in organized sports, especially those that require close contact or sharing of equipment (such as tennis, where the ball is touched by all players)
Can I go to the beach?
As states begin to loosen stay at home orders, several are allowing visitors to beaches, with restrictions. Fresh air and exercise outside is always recommended, but when going, maintain the standard precautions of social distancing. Being at a beach is safer than being inside at a gathering, it’s still a risk to interact with large groups of people and share public spaces. That’s why many beaches are limiting activities that could force contact and proximity.
Also be aware that when you’re at the beach, you may need to use public changing rooms and bathrooms, which present more concerns about being in indoor close quarters with others. This makes it easier to spread the virus. Keep your distance and wash your hands thoroughly, frequently and wipe down any surfaces before touching them with a disinfectant wipe, including toilet seats, door knobs and handles.
How safe am I when I go to the grocery store?
Since the risk of infection depends on the level of exposure and the duration of exposure, running errands is a relatively safe experience. You won’t be in stores for a long period of time while shopping, and as long as you wear a mask, practice social distancing, and sanitize your hands before and after leaving, you’re risk of exposure is low.
But here are some tips to further reduce your risk:
- Shop infrequently. Plan your trips and needs so that you are only going shopping every one or two weeks.
- Have a list so you aren’t wandering around the store, but instead going in and out to get what you need.
- Go shopping at times when the stores are less crowded. Many stores are limiting the number of people allowed in at a time, so follow that guidance so you’re not left standing outside in line waiting to get in.
- Be aware of the times set aside for older and vulnerable people to shop, and don’t go during those times if you don’t have to.
- Pay by credit card if possible, reducing the exchange of cash increases the risk of exposing others.
- Know the stores rules around using your own bags before you go.
- Practice social distancing
- Only touch what you’re going to buy
- Wait your turn
- Be patient, everyone is getting used to this and doing their best
- If you aren’t comfortable or others aren’t practicing social distancing, leave and come back another time.
- Try to consolidate your trips to one store. Going to multiple stores increases your exposure and cross contamination.
- Use curbside pick up if possible.
- Don’t leave wipes, gloves, or other garbage in the cart of on the ground.
Is it safe to travel during the Covid-19 Outbreak?
The CDC recommends you stay at home whenever possible, practicing social distancing. Traveling increases your risk of exposure and the risk of exposing others, especially elderly and other vulnerable people, and carrying the virus to other locations. Only travel if you have to, and again, take precautions.
Different types of travel have different levels of risk. Traveling alone in a car, for example, carries little to no risk, except when you interact with others or use public facilities, such as stores, gas stations, or public restrooms. The same goes for the risks to traveling with others in your household.
Traveling on a train or airplane for longer distances dramatically increases your risk of exposure. On planes and trains people are close together for long periods of time. This raises the risk of transmission. They also have self-contained ventilation systems, so the air that flows through the cabins is circulated, spreading any droplets further throughout, and recirculates it.
When traveling, if you have to, wear a mask, wipe down any and all surfaces with a disinfectant wipe after every use or touch, and whenever possible wash or disinfect your hands frequently. And don’t touch your face.