At least 1,600 people who developed coronavirus boarded planes and could have infected 11,000 more passengers – but the CDC cannot confirm ANY cases of in-flight spread
- CDC officials investigated 1,600 people who took flights while at risk of spreading coronavirus, a Washington Post report reveals
- They followed nearly 11,000 other travelers who could have been exposed
- Some of those contacts did develop coronavirus, but CDC officials were never able to confirm whether the transmission occurred on board a flight
At least 1,600 Americans have flown while at-risk for coronavirus, potentially exposing nearly 11,000 people on their planes, according to a Washington Post report of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data.
The CDC investigated at the passengers who may have been infectious while traveling, and the thousands of people they shared a cabin with.
Some of their fellow travelers did develop coronavirus after the flights, but the health investigators could not pin down whether they caught the virus while in the air, or elsewhere.
‘An absence of cases identified or reported is not evidence that there were no cases,’ said Caitlin Shockey, a spokeswoman for the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine told the Washington Post.
‘CDC is not able to definitively determine that potential cases were associated (or not) with exposure in the air cabin or through air travel given the numerous opportunities for potential exposure associated with the entire travel journey and widespread global distribution of the virus,’ she wrote in a statement emailed to the Post.
It is both a worrying signal of the potential for coronavirus to spread on planes, and a distressing insight into the imperfections of contact tracing efforts to determine how, where, and to whom coronavirus spreads.
Health officials investigated 1,6000 people who boarded airplanes while at risk for spreading coronavirus. While some of the nearly 11,000 people the shared plane cabins with did develop COVID-19, CDC officials could never confirm whether they contracted it on board (file)
The crowded, enclosed cabins of airplane make them anxious places to be amid the pandemic, but they boast highly efficient ventilation systems. The air in a plane’s passenger cabin is replaced about 15 times every hour.
And a recent CDC study of one particular flight found that, even on a 10-hour journey, the virus spread from one passenger to 15 other people (including one crew member), all but three of whom were seated in business class in the immediate vicinity of the index case.
It was evidence that the virus certainly can spread in close quarters on a flight, but was also somewhat reassuring that infectious particles did not spread like wildfire throughout the entire airplane.
The CDC’s travel guidance says that flights do not pose a major risk for contraction coronavirus, but also advises that the the safest thing to do is stay home.
Data revealed by the Post seems to suggest that health officials just don’t know for certain whether people who have developed coronavirus after traveling got it en route, or somewhere else.
What is well-known is the ability of masks to reduce the risks of both spreading and catching coronavirus.
Several agencies have called for a mask mandate during air travel, but the US Department of Transportation has declined to issue one.
Most airlines do require masks on-board of their own volition. Delta this month said it had banned 270 passengers from its planes for refusing to wear masks.
Both Delta and JetBlue have been leaving the middle seats open on their respective flights, in an effort to maintain some semblance of social distancing and reduce the risks of any potentially infected passengers spreading it to others.
Other major airliners, including American Airlines and United, have not followed suit, filling their entire planes as they try to salvage plummeting revenues and shares.
They do, however, require masks on board.
And so long as tracking the presence or spread of coronavirus continues to prove so difficult, wearing a mask may be the best prevention measure people can take, since the possibility of an undetected case of coronavirus seems very real.