New studies show COVID-19 transmission aboard long flights becoming ‘increasing concern’

BOSTON — As more people are traveling again, there are growing concerns about COVID-19 transmission aboard longer airline flights.

According to The Washington Post, the CDC has now investigated about 1,600 cases of people flying while at risk of spreading coronavirus, and identified 11,000 passengers who were potentially exposed on flights.

“It’s just a lot of numbers coming out, and we need to do what we can to stay safe,” said Brendan Higgins, a traveler at Boston Logan Airport Sunday night who was catching a flight to Raleigh, N.C.

On Friday two new studies were published in the CDC Journal, pointing to growing evidence that long flights may result in the virus spreading as many countries have started lifting flight restrictions.

The use of masks in the studies is unclear.

The first study identified one passenger on a 10-hour commercial flight who likely transmitted the virus to 15 people on board.

>>>MORE: DPH reports 15 new COVID-19-related deaths, 340 new confirmed cases

Researchers concluded that longer flights could lead to clusters of substantial size, writing:

“Although the international flight industry has judged the risk for in-flight transmission to be very low, long flights in particular have become a matter of increasing concern as many countries have started lifting flight restrictions despite ongoing SARS-CoV-2 transmission.”

The study later concludes:

“We conclude that the risk for on-board transmission of SARS-CoV-2 during long flights is real and has the potential to cause COVID-19 clusters of substantial size, even in business class–like settings with spacious seating arrangements well beyond the established distance used to define close contact on airplanes. As long as COVID-19 presents a global pandemic threat in the absence of a good point-of-care test, better on-board infection prevention measures and arrival screening procedures are needed to make flying safe.”

The second study examined a 15-hour international flight departing Boston Logan Airport in March, where two people likely transmitted the virus to two cabin crew members.

According to the findings, “Our results demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 can be transmitted on airplanes. To prevent transmission of the virus during travel, infection control measures must continue.”

TSA Agents working at airports in the United States have also been contracting COVID-19.

According to the official TSA government website, TSA has 215 employees with active COVID-19 infections. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they state that, cumulatively, 1,876 federal employees have tested positive.

At Boston Logan Airport, 37 TSA Agents have tested positive for COVID-19, with the most recent case reported on Wednesday, September 16.

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