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If you need to travel on an airplane

by Don Gardner, Clearwater County Office of Emergency Management

What is the risk of getting COVID-19 on an airplane?

Because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, most viruses and other germs do not spread easily. Although the risk of infection on an airplane is low, try to avoid contact with sick passengers and wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

What if there is a sick passenger on the flight?

Under current federal regulations, pilots must report all illnesses and deaths to CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) before arriving to a US destination. According to CDC disease protocols, if a sick traveler is considered to be a public health risk, CDC works with local and state health departments and international public health agencies to contact passengers and crew exposed to that sick traveler.

Be sure to give the airline your current contact information when booking your ticket so you can be notified if you are exposed to a sick traveler on a flight.

Should travelers wear facemasks?

  • CDC does not recommend that healthy travelers wear facemasks to protect themselves from COVID-19. Wear a facemask only if you are sick and coughing or sneezing to help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses to others. If you are well, it is more important to take these important steps to reduce your chances of getting sick:
    • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
    • To the extent possible, avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places - elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, handshaking with people, etc.
  • Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something.
  • Wash your hands after touching surfaces in public places.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water aren't available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Personal air space

By opening your air vent, you will help keep filtered air flowing in your personal space throughout the flight. Airplane ventilation and air quality

All commercial jet aircraft built after the late 1980s, and a few modified older aircraft, recirculate 10-50 percent of the air in the cabin, mixed with outside air. The recirculated air passes through a series of filters 20-30 times per hour. In most newer-model airplanes, the recycled air passes through high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters, which capture 99.9 percent of particles (bacteria, fungi, and larger viruses or virus clumps) 0.1-0.3 ┬Ám in diameter. Furthermore, air generally circulates in defined areas within the aircraft, thus limiting the radius of distribution of pathogens spread by small-particle aerosols. As a result, the cabin air environment is not conducive to the spread of most infectious diseases.

Some diseases may be spread by contact with infected secretions, such as when an ill person sneezes or coughs (and the secretions or droplets land on another person's face, mouth, nose, or eyes), or touches a communal surface (such as a door knob or rest room faucet) with contaminated hands. Other people handling those contaminated surfaces may then be inoculated with the contaminant. Practicing good handwashing and respiratory hygiene (covering mouth when coughing or sneezing) decreases the risk of disease spread by direct or indirect contact

While on a layover in the United States or at your travel destination

  • Minimize contact with ground personnel and time in public areas while moving between the aircraft and the private transport.
  • Stay in your hotel room to the extent possible.
  • Minimize going out into the general population and use social distancing (maintain a distance of approximately six feet, if possible) whenever out in public. Avoid crowds, stores, sporting or mass entertainment events, and other situations likely to attract large numbers of people.
  • Eat in your hotel room with either room service or delivery service. If in-room dining options are not available, eat at a restaurant located in the hotel. If not available at the hotel, eat at a restaurant located close to the hotel.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use at least a 60 percent alcohol based hand sanitizer. Use soap and water when your hands are visibly soiled.
  • Avoid touching your face

When you arrive home:

  • Be aware of the risk of COVID-19 in your local community.
  • Follow guidance of the local health department.
  • If you feel sick, stay home
  • Avoid crowded places and use social distancing.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.

Window on the Clearwater
P.O. Box 2444
Orofino, ID 83544
Phone: (208) 476-0733
Fax: (208) 476-4140
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