Regardless of what health and safety experts say, some people will still travel during the pandemic. Here are some tips on how to do it safer if it’s necessary.
“Flying has been shown to be a safe mode of travel during the pandemic,” said Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“The time spent in the airplane itself has been demonstrated to be safe, with thousands of flights successfully completed without evidence of transmission and only a handful of cases of transmission while in the air.”
Because of improved ventilation systems viruses may not spread easily on flights, but this is not a reason to let your guard down, Gonsenhauser said. Take precautions seriously and vigilantly adhere to recommendations on mask use, physical distancing and hand hygiene.
“We have not demonstrated that the ventilation system decreases risk in absence of the mask/distance/hand hygiene precautions we are suggesting,” he said. “These are all part of a system of risk reduction and must be used in concert.”
Travelers should be cautious getting to and from airports, during the time spent in airport security and ticketing lines, eating at restaurants and in other interactions, Gonsenhauser said.
“Avoid crowds,” he said.
Be as self-sufficient as possible.
“Bringing your own water bottle or blanket is a good idea,” said Dr. Enoch Wang, chief medical officer at Mission Healthcare, a San Diego-based home health and hospice provider. “The less time and frequency someone other than you will be in contact with your personal items, the better.”
The best, worst face coverings
Airlines require a mask and the best choice is whichever mask you will use most consistently.
“Beyond that a well-fitting hospital grade mask or multi-layered cloth mask is the best choice. An N-95 is not necessary per current guidelines,” Gonsenhauser said.
Avoid neck gaiter-type coverings, which seem to spread larger respiratory droplets into numerous smaller droplets, Wang said.
While face shields are a choice to increase protection, they should not replace masks, he said.
“Face shields do not protect against aerosolized transmission. The shields will need to be used in addition to a mask,” Wang said.
Instead of a face shield glasses, prescription or otherwise, can be worn as an additional layer of protection, both experts agreed.
In addition to proper mask wearing, bring your own sanitizing wipes to wipe down surfaces that are commonly touched such as tray tables and armrests, Wang said.
“It is important to make sure you do not touch surfaces and then touch your mucous membranes: eyes, nose, mouth,” he said.
Wearing gloves or even layering on pairs of gloves and shedding them as you go is an option, but the practice can actually increase risk by creating a false sense of security and decreasing hand hygiene.
The best solution for contact risk, which is low, is regular hand washing with soap and water or a waterless hand sanitizer with approximately 70% alcohol concentration, Gonsenhauser said.
When using an airplane restroom, allow a few moments for the air to exchange.
“Most airplanes have a high flow of air through the restroom and it exchanges very quickly, greatly reducing your risk of entering a restroom with airborne respiratory droplets or aerosols that put you at risk,” Gonsenhauser said.
Understand your risks.
“If you have underlying high risk medical conditions, I would even more strongly advise against traveling,” Wang said. “The vaccines are on the way. Historically, these are some of the most effective vaccines we have had. We just need to withstand this a little bit longer. I, like all of you, am looking forward to the day where we can all return to normal.”