The risk of catching COVID-19 on a plane is very low if passengers wear a mask, according to a study carried out aboard long-haul Boeing 767 and 777 and released by the US military on Thursday.
Researchers from the US Army Transport Command (US Transcom) and the Agency for Defense Advanced Research Projects (Darpa) measured the volume of contagious aerosols transmitted using fluorescent tracers and sensors. to other passengers by a dummy simulating an infected person breathing normally.
The most exposed passengers, materialized by sensors, were logically those seated either right next to the “infected” mannequin, or directly in front of or behind him.
However, according to the approximately 300 tests carried out on the ground and in flight during eight days in a row in August, in cooperation with the company United Airlines, 99.7% of the infected particles had been eliminated in 5 minutes before reaching the closest passengers, thanks to the sophisticated ventilation system of the devices tested.
If the spread is extended to the 40 seats closest to the contaminated person, the reduction in aerosols reaches 99.99%.
These results led military transport officials to conclude that even at full capacity, the level of transmission of the virus was zero during 12 flight hours.
The tests only investigated the hypothesis of an infected passenger, assumed that all passengers wore a mask at all times, and did not look at the risk of transmission of the virus from an infected passenger moving around the cabin.
But “they are encouraging,” noted the study manager for Transcom, Commander Joe Pope. “For both the 777 and the 767, calculations show that it would take 54 hours of flying in a row to inhale enough viral load to get sick.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the US military has suspended most movements of troops and their families, causing delays in assignment changes and family relocations.