Risk Of COVID-19 Exposure On Planes 'Virtually Nonexistent For Mask-Wearers

A new study conducted by the U.S. Defense Department and United Airlines found that the risk of contracting COVID-19 while flying on an airplane is "virtually nonexistent," as long as all the passengers are wearing masks.

They conducted 300 tests inside the cabin of a Boeing 777-200 and 767-300. The two aircraft were equipped with sensors throughout the cabin to simulate a full flight and a specialized mannequin designed to simulate breathing and coughing. The dummy was capable of releasing 280 million particles into the air, which is the equivalent of about 1,000 coughs.

They found that after the mannequin "coughed," most of the particles were sucked into the plane's ventilation system. When the mannequin was wearing a mask, they found there was just a 0.003% chance that the particles would enter the breathing space of the person in the next seat over.

"99.99% of those particles left the interior of the aircraft within six minutes," United Airlines Chief Communication Officer Josh Earnest told ABC News. "It indicates that being on board an aircraft is the safest indoor public space, because of the unique configuration inside an aircraft that includes aggressive ventilation, lots of airflow."

Last week, the International Air Transport Association said that contracting COVID-19 while flying is extremely rare. They found just 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 linked to air passengers, compared to the more than 1.2 billion people that have flown during the global pandemic.

Photo: Getty Images

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