Harvard study says flying can be safer than eating at a restaurant

Using these and other measures as part of a layered approach could push the risk of catching the virus on a plane below that of other activities, including grocery shopping and eating at a restaurant, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health concluded.

“Though a formidable adversary, SARS-CoV-2 need not overwhelm society’s capacity to adapt and progress,” the report said. “It is possible to gain a measure of control and to develop strategies that mitigate spread of the disease while allowing a careful reopening of sectors of society.”

This study, from the industry-funded Aviation Public Health Initiative, is likely to be cited by airlines and plane manufacturers as they continue to try to convince the public that it is safe to fly as long as proper precautions are taken.

The Harvard study follows the recent release of a Defense Department study that concluded that wearing a mask continuously while flying could reduce the spread of the virus because of how air is filtered and circulated on an airplane. Along with previous research, the two studies further bolster the case for wearing face coverings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recently updated its guidance on face coverings to say that it “strongly recommends” that masks be worn on all forms of public and commercial transportation.

The Harvard team included experts on environmental health, industrial hygiene and infectious diseases whose goal was to develop a “comprehensive understanding of the intersection between the science informing SARS-CoV-2 transmission and the operations in the aviation environment.”

In this instance, they focused on strategies to protect people during what they called the “gate-to-gate” part of their journey. A second study, expected in early 2021, will look at the science and recommend strategies to safely manage the “curb-to-curb” portion of a traveler’s journey.

It is being funded by airlines, airports and aircraft manufacturers.

Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a collaborative effort of the Harvard School of Public Health and the Kennedy School of Government, said that the industry’s involvement with the study did not influence the team’s findings.

“There were open conversations back and forth and we were very adamant about maintaining our independence,” Marcus said. “We felt that the lines were drawn well enough for us to conduct our independent research.” He declined to say how much the study cost.

Since the pandemic began, many have viewed air travel with suspicion in part because it places people in an enclosed space with others for a significant amount of time — behavior that runs counter to much of the guidance from health officials.

The CDC, for example, continues to caution that air travel presents some risks because of those factors.

Researchers have identified examples where the virus may have been transmitted while travelers were on board an aircraft. In one instance, a woman flying from London to Hanoi in March appears to have infected as many as 15 other passengers and crew members. In another case, researchers

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A travel group report says flying is safe. The doctor whose research it cited says not so fast.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), a global airline trade group representing 290 carriers in 120 countries, published a report this month aiming to reassure grounded travelers about the future of flying. The group collected medical journal data on in-flight coronavirus cases and used it to declare that commercial flights have a “low incidence of inflight COVID-19 transmission” when masks are worn.



(Illustration by Woody Harrington for The Washington Post)


(Illustration by Woody Harrington for The Washington Post)

Following an abundance of new research, the report says, only 44 cases of coronavirus have been linked to a flight, during a period when 1.2 billion passengers traveled.

But a doctor whose work was cited in the report says that the group is misrepresenting his findings by only counting proven flight-linked cases that were published in medical journals.

“IATA is taking it to an extreme saying there’s ‘little’ risk in flying,” says David Freedman, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Alabama whose study is cited in the IATA report. “What they want is to throw this number on the risk of flying … and we don’t know what that risk is yet. I’m not saying the risk is high, but there is some risk. It just looks like masks help a lot.”

Is it safer to fly or drive during the pandemic? 5 health experts weigh in.

The bottom line, Freedman says, is that cases linked to air travel are very difficult to scientifically prove because passengers are not usually monitored after flying and therefore are not tallied if they become sick. It’s also nearly impossible to determine whether sick passengers picked up the virus on a plane as opposed to in an airport or on the way there, he says. “And if you can’t prove it, it doesn’t end up in a journal.”

Freedman’s cited study, published in September 2020, says that “the absence of large numbers of published in-flight transmissions of SARS-CoV-2 is not definitive evidence of safety.”

While an abundance of in-flight research on covid-19 has recently come to light, Freedman is not alone in his assessment that it’s unclear if flying is a low-risk endeavor amid the pandemic.

Brad Pollock, the associate dean of public health sciences at the University of California at Davis, agrees with Freedman’s assessment of IATA’s report, calling it an “overreach.” Studies do not account for unpredictable passengers who board planes every day, he says.

“There’s movement in the cabin to consider, but also so many people improperly wear a mask below their nostrils,” Pollock says. “That’s more of an issue than what kind of mask they’re wearing. If everyone wears their mask properly on the plane, we’re going to be much better off.”

In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that nearly 11,000 people have been potentially exposed to the coronavirus on flights. The CDC told The Washington Post that of those in-flight exposures, “an absence of cases identified or reported is not evidence that there were no cases.” On Monday, it updated its guidance to

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A UPS exec reveals how the pressures of the pandemic can make drone deliveries a reality as it starts flying medical supplies, PPE, and medicine



a man riding on the back of a red building: UPS has launched two health care-related drone delivery trials during the pandemic. Courtesy of UPS


© Courtesy of UPS
UPS has launched two health care-related drone delivery trials during the pandemic. Courtesy of UPS

  • UPS, along with other delivery and logistics companies, is in a race to launch regular, commercial drone delivery systems.
  • In the past few months, UPS has begun pilot programs with CVS and a major hospital system, using drones to make deliveries and transport critical supplies.
  • In an exclusive interview with Business Insider, UPS’ VP of Advanced Technologies explained how the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the use cases for drones.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The logistics industry has been buzzing about drone delivery for years, but aside from a few high-profile pilot programs and conceptual tests, the tech has failed to materialize as a real-world solution for moving goods.

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But drones are steadily coming closer to serving a practical use, according to Bala Ganesh, head of the Advanced Technologies Group at UPS.

“What we are right now in the process of, as we work through the integration pilot program with the FAA, is turn[ing] the corner to get to a more sustainable operation,” Ganesh told Business Insider during an exclusive interview at the IGNITION: Transportation summit this week. “What we’ve been in so far has been a test and learn journey.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the urgency of drone delivery — and highlighted its potential.

“The initial step for drones would be in this critical health care slash other industries that really require something urgently,” Ganesh said. “As the technology becomes more mature and costs go down,” he said, drones could be integrated into more routine purposes and deliveries.

UPS has launched two health care-related trials during the pandemic. One, at the Villages retirement community in Florida, delivers prescription medication to residents from a nearby CVS. The other, at the Wake Forest Baptist health system in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, offers fast shipping of time-sensitive medical supplies and PPE between the health system’s central campus and its other locations.

A key challenge to taking drone deliveries mainstream is the complex approvals needed from the FAA, as well as methods to avoid nearby air traffic. That, coupled with the difficulties of navigating around tall and dense development, makes it likely that drone deliveries will start out in rural and suburban areas, Ganesh said.

One of the most interesting use cases the company has explored, Ganesh said, is a “driver assist” system, in which each time the driver makes a delivery stop in a rural location, they launch the drone from the top of their truck and have it make the next delivery on the route. It would effectively double the number of deliveries a driver can make in a given time.

While drone delivery in cities is still something UPS plans to develop, that will likely come later, Ganesh said.

“There’s a lot of ideas” to solve the challenge of urban drone delivery, Ganesh said. “I’m sure that time will come,” he added, “but it may not

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