I remember when planes used to have smoking sections. Why won't airline companies at the very least offer us the choice mask/non-mask sections? I think that's fair. Anyone know anyone in the industry? Please ask them. We'd also probably get a lot more corroborating data that might at least sway some naysayers.

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Just returned from the Boston Marathon on JetBlue. Thrilled to be seated next to 2 med students wearing N-95 like me!

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Apr 20, 2022Liked by Katelyn Jetelina

Love your stuff! Just an FYI on the "legal precedent." This was a decision of the lowest federal court (district court). Technically it has zero precedential value. If the appealed and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals affirms or reverses, that has precedential value in the states in that circuit. That is all of the District Courts must follow their Appeals Court's decisions. Different Circuits can even come out differently and only the Supreme Court can decide (if they so choose) which Circuit is correct.

That said the reasoning of why the Court came to its conclusion can have persuasive value should a similar issue come up again.

I had a prof once who said that District Court judges were not expected to "get it right" that's what the appeals courts were for. Kind of glib, but there are a lot of District Court judges of varying abilities.

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So, we need policies that protect people until the plane is in flight and some guarantee that the people around us do not have Covid. It seems like it would just be easier to wear a mask at all times rather put together some patchwork thing that half the people would ignore. I still have not figured out why wearing a mask is such a big deal. I personally will take $$ and travel some other way.

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Apr 20, 2022·edited Apr 20, 2022

We flew home from Windhoek, Namibia to Maui, Hawaii exactly 20 days ago. The flight path was a total of 4 planes totaling around 30 flight hours. We had to test negative (which we both did) on a PCR test in Namibia before being allowed to board a plane to the US.

In our business class cabin (Qatar Airways), masks were optional because we are 6ft or more apart from the other passengers and we had private cubicles with doors. The flight attendant told me staff had to wear masks but passengers in business class don't. We wore our N95 the whole time except when eating.

By the time we landed in Seattle, my wife was showing mild symptoms. We thought nothing of it because of the nature of long haul travel. While on the final leg to Hawaii, she was having full blown symptoms (runny nose, headache & nausea). She tested positive immediately two times.

By some miracle, I don't have Covid. I've tested negative 4 times in 20 days even though we've been living together and operating as per usual. She's at the tail end and recovering now but yes, she contracted it on one of the flights back 100%. If not on the flight, then it could be one of the 4 crowded and/or poorly ventilated airports (Windhoek, Johannesburg, Doha or Seattle)

Thank you for confirming this fact.

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I literally read this on an international flight with an unmasked guy 3 rows behind me coughing throughtout the 7.5 hour flight. I had my mask on and 1 of my 2 air vent nozzles aimed towards him to keep his air flow at bay!

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Dr Jetelina I just read a column by David Leonhardt of the NYT today quoting epidemiologist M Osterholm of U of Minnesota saying that Public health advice has been off the mark about masks and that the public has been given a sense of a level of protection that is not warranted. It further says that the risks of Covid-19, including the vulnerable, equates to severe influenza. In fairness, the NYT piece is attempting to look at the issue of “mandates” from all angles. But I’d like to know if you can comment. Thanks.

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A Common Ground for Masks and No Masks – Is This Possible (and desirable)?

As usual, excellent review of dropping the mask requirements on planes, trains, etc. You underscore the strong scientific evidence supporting masks. Unfortunately, this is undermined by strong public and political opposition to mask requirements. Sadly, strong opinions on both sides in these divisive times does not bode well for a resolution any time soon.

Perhaps a common ground can be found modeled after remedies that were established, beginning in the 1970s, when airlines began to create separate cabins for smokers and non-smokers. Similarly, partitions (with reverse airflow) can be created in airplanes for those who choose to wear masks and for those who choose not to do so. And for many years, trains had smoker and non-smoker cars. In 1990, the FAA ruled out all smoking in air travel.

In these troubled times, finding a common ground in this fashion has the potential of being a winnable battle as opposed to either side demanding total victory resulting in endless public health policy flip-flops based on CDC guidance, executive actions, judicial rulings and overturned judicial rulings resulting in public confusion and further polarization.

Separate cabins for those choosing to mask-up and those choosing to mask-down might be a good place to start. This could be the starting point for more civil conversation about masks or even vaccination and maybe serve as a model for other polarized public policy areas.

Maybe this would work and maybe not. But then again, I’m an optimist. And you know the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. It’s simple – the pessimist has better data!!!

Related thoughts:

1. Ventilation/filtration systems. You mentioned that planes have great filtration/ventilation systems. Do you know if this is based on upgrades during the pandemic? Prior to pandemic, concerns were raised by the Association of Flight Attendants, CWA, AFL-CIO in 2018 about air quality. https://www.afacwa.org/aircraft_air_quality . Are all aircraft equipped with HEPA filters/are they required? Are they regularly inspected and changed – regulations? Are filters installed properly to create “smart air flow” (i.e. away from your face)?

2. Boarding and Taxiing: You pointed out that ventilation systems do not operate during boarding and taxiing – is this something simple that can be changed?

3. Airline Resistance. Airlines opposed masking requirements. And clearly, they would oppose the expense and logistical issues associated with creating separate cabins for masking and not masking. Airlines received substantial government bailout funds that enabled them to survive the pandemic. What needs to be done to overcome this resistance should the dual cabin approach be considered.

In closing, thanks again for your much valued information, professional opinion and bottom line.


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Thank you for enlightening data and analysis. Some of the studies were conducted early in the pandemic. Presumably risk factors would increase with the more highly transmissible Delta and Omicron variants.

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Very, very useful information. Convincing case for continuing mask useage.

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Apr 20, 2022·edited Apr 21, 2022

The cases that you reference showing that masks prevent spread on planes, do you know what type of masks were worn? We travel to Germany often and N95 / medical grade masks are required, no cloth masks allowed. I’m curious if that research is based on any mask quality or medical grade.

Also, what do you think our goal should be as a society when we make these decisions? Is it zero spread? Is it waiting until the vaccine is available for all ages? It seems like some experts want a zero risk tolerance so I’m curious your perspective here.

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Thank you for this article! It was perfect timining for my parents (who don't trust me!). If you ever need a follow-up topic, their next question was "what happens to our immune system if we always mask in public going forward".

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In on Delta wi-fi right now-about 50% of the plane is masked :) Interesting to see this as it is very relevant to my current life situation!

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Another timely post, thank you Dr Jetelina.

And then there are cruiseships — the concerns raised in your post, raised by orders of magnitude:

- megaships with up to 7000 passengers, 2300 crew

- 7 days of “cohabitation”

- eating 3 meals/day in the same (interior) restaurant(s)

- boisterous entertainments

- close queueing (on/off ship) takes hours

- filtration mitigation is unknown, masking unpopular

- no contact tracing following cruise

- possible asymptomatic spread aboard and throughout ports of call

Granted, folks who cruise are taking their own chances, but they are imposing their choices on communities where and when they disembark, and on their home communities when they return.

The large-scale return of this industry this summer should be instructive.

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Thank you for this post. We have a trip with our toddler in a few weeks and with increased rates and mask mandate lifted we are rethinking it. My parents sent us personalized air filters. Do they really work? What things would you consider to take your kids on a 5 hour flight?

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No so sure about aircraft ventilation claims. CO2 on last flight was steady 1700. Delta Boeing 737-900. Fairly modern airplane.

Was up to 2400 during boarding...

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