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Published on Thursday, September 24, 2020

CDC says nearly 11,000 may have been exposed to Covid-19 on flights

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said thousands of travelers may have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus on planes, but there is no verifiable data to prove that anyone actually contracted the virus while in the cabin.

The CDC says there were at least 1,600 flights where at least one person may have had the virus.

That exposed a total of nearly 11,000 people who were seated within the six-feet transmission range of that person during the flight.

"CDC identified and notified relevant health departments about these 10,900 on-board close contacts," the CDC said.

While some of these travelers reportedly fell ill, the agency has not able to confirm any definite cases of transmission.

It puts this down to insufficient contact tracing data and the long incubation period, the Washington Post reports.

Although there is no definitive data, the agency said that does not mean passengers haven't contracted Covid-19 on flights.

"An absence of cases identified or reported is not evidence that there were no cases," Caitlin Shockey, a spokesperson for the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, told The Washington Post.

"CDC is not able to definitively determine that potential cases were associated (or not) with exposure in the air cabin or through air travel given the numerous opportunities for potential exposure associated with the entire travel journey."

However the CDC says there is evidence that Covid-19 has likely been transmitted on flights in other countries.

One person with Covid-19 infected 15 other people during a flight from London to Vietnam in March, the CDC said.

The passenger was traveling business class but two of those infected were seated in economy.

The agency says it is not easy for viruses to spread easily on flights because of the air ventilation but the lack of proper social distancing, often for several hours, increases the risk.


Written by Ray Montgomery, US editor

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  • Exposure to Covid-19 on flights

    This study doesn't mention the timeline for this report, while there is a small mention about transmission on flights in March. It is worth keeping in mind that in March 2020 the world had just starting realizing the spread of this virus so there were no protection guidelines defined for the travelers in flight. I wonder if there is a way to find out if this study is an update since March if not then it would be helpful to learn if there has been any study about transmission from flights since airlines have mandated wearing masks while on board. Another point to consider is that many other countries have been operating their internal domestic flights since June 2020, so comparing their data would also help us all understand how to keep ourselves and others safe while flying.

    By Usha Rao, Friday, September 25, 2020

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