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FACT FOCUS: Masks Help Curb Spread of COVID-19 on Planes | U.S. News®

By JOSH KELETY and ANGELO FICHERA, Associated Press

The CEO of a serious airline advised throughout a congressional listening to this week that face masks present little worth on planes — a declare that was rapidly amplified on-line.

Citing high-quality filtration techniques aboard planes, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly acknowledged that “masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment.”

But specialists strongly disagree. Here are the details.

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CLAIM: Mask-wearing on planes is pointless as a result of superior air filtration techniques sufficiently scale back the danger of COVID-19 transmission.

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THE FACTS: While it’s true that the widespread air filtration and distribution techniques utilized in fashionable plane are extremely efficient at lowering the danger of COVID-19 transmission amongst passengers, masks add one other layer of safety for air vacationers, specialists instructed The Associated Press.

Kelly’s feedback got here throughout a Wednesday listening to earlier than the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi requested Kelly and one other airline CEO in the event that they thought air journey with out masks may ever resume.

Kelly mentioned that “99.97% of airborne pathogens are captured” by excessive effectivity particulate air filters, or HEPA filters, on airplanes, earlier than suggesting that masks are pointless throughout air journey.

“Yeah, I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment,” Kelly mentioned. “It’s very safe, and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting.”

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American Airlines CEO Doug Parker appeared to agree, saying, “I concur, the aircraft is the safest place you can be.” He famous that every one of his firm’s plane have the identical HEPA filters.

The feedback have been rapidly picked up by information retailers and blogs, and unfold on social media.

“The CEOs of Southwest and American Airlines both said today in Senate testimony that masks on planes serve no purpose,” mentioned one tweet shared greater than 3,500 occasions.

Both CEOs clarified their feedback to say they assist the present federal coverage requiring masks on flights.

Southwest Airlines offered the AP with a message that Kelly despatched to workers through which the CEO apologized for any “confusion” stemming from the listening to, saying Southwest continued to “support the current federal mask mandate at airports and on airplanes.”

Kelly mentioned the airline adopted a masks requirement aboard its flights in May 2020, earlier than the federal authorities required it, and that workers and prospects “have felt it has been an important layer of protection, and I certainly agree with that.” He mentioned the airline would “continue to rely on the advice of our medical experts regarding the necessity of masks.”

Parker later mentioned on social media he “agreed with my fellow CEOs that being onboard a plane is proven to be a safe and healthy indoor environment.” But he mentioned that his assertion on the listening to was unclear and that he supported the federal masks mandate “Full stop.”

While HEPA filtration techniques are extremely efficient at lowering the transmission of viruses, they don’t fully eradicate threat aboard flights, in response to Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech.

“The issue is that they only work on the air as it passes through the filter,” she mentioned in an electronic mail. “If you are sitting near someone who is releasing lots of viruses into the air, you could end up inhaling them before they have had a chance to pass through the filtration system.”

Marr mentioned it takes a couple of minutes for air to fully cross via the filtration system. She mentioned requiring everybody to put on a masks reduces the quantity of virus an contaminated particular person can launch into the air, and helps scale back the quantity of virus somebody carrying a masks may breathe in.

Leonard J. Marcus, director of the Aviation Public Health Initiative at Harvard University, agreed.

“Yes, the ventilation system on airplanes are incredible. They’re comparable with what you might find in an operating room,” he mentioned. But “it is the multiple layers, it’s not one thing alone.”

Marcus mentioned that masks are significantly necessary when persons are boarding and exiting airplanes or transferring across the plane cabin. Rising COVID-19 circumstances and the menace posed by the omicron variant additionally make mask-wearing on planes important, he mentioned.

“People are moving about, people are turning to speak to someone, people are sometimes lifting up their mask to drink,” mentioned Marcus, whose initiative printed a report in October that supported a “layered” strategy to decreasing threat. “If everyone is wearing the mask, there’s going to be much less transmission of the disease.”

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, a union representing some 50,000 flight attendants, has additionally referred to as masks a “key component” of security on flights, noting that not all planes have HEPA filtration techniques.

Kelety reported from Phoenix; Fichera from Philadelphia.

This is a component of AP’s effort to deal with broadly shared misinformation, together with work with outdoors corporations and organizations so as to add factual context to deceptive content material that’s circulating on-line. Learn extra about fact-checking at AP.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This materials is probably not printed, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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