What Is the Risk of Catching the Coronavirus on a Plane?

khn.org
6 min read
fairly difficult
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says airplanes are not vectors for the spread of COVID-19 and that flying is "something that is safe for people to do." Is the evidence really so clear?
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tried to alleviate fears of flying during the pandemic at an event with airline and rental car executives."The airplanes have just not been vectors when you see spread of the coronavirus," DeSantis said during a discussion at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Aug. 28. "The evidence is the evidence. And I think it's something that is safe for people to do."

Is the evidence really so clear?

DeSantis' claim that airplanes have not been "vectors" for the spread of the coronavirus is untrue, according to experts. A "vector" spreads the virus from location to location, and airplanes have ferried infected passengers across geographies, making COVID-19 outbreaks more difficult to contain. Joseph Allen, an associate professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard University called airplanes "excellent vectors for viral spread" in a press call.

In context, DeSantis seemed to be making a point about the safety of flying on a plane rather than the role airplanes played in spreading the virus from place to place.

When we contacted the governor's office for evidence to back up DeSantis' comments, press secretary Cody McCloud didn't produce any studies or statistics. Instead, he cited the Florida Department of Health's contact tracing program, writing that it "has not yielded any information that would suggest any patients have been infected while travelling on a commercial aircraft."

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Florida's contact tracing program has been mired in controversy over reports that it is understaffed and ineffective. For instance, CNN called 27 Floridians who tested positive for COVID-19 and found that only five had been contacted by health authorities. (The Florida Department of Health did not respond to requests for an interview.)

In the absence of reliable data, we decided to ask the…
Noah Y. Kim
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