“I am afraid of the plane, I am also afraid of the ship …”. The famous song “The Same” in which Helena Bianco proposed to create a bridge from Valencia to Mallorca was the great success of the summer in 1968. More than thirty years later, many people repeat the same phrase today. But for very different reasons. In the summer of 2020 the fear of traveling by plane is not so much due to the risk of having an accident, but rather because of what may happen inside. And is that the virus … is loose.
Of course, we are not just talking about planes. The fear of traveling by public transport in general (plane, train, bus, subway …) has increased in recent days as the WHO has recognized the possibility that the virus is transmitted through the air. In addition to the already known routes “from person to person” or through contaminated surfaces, studies show that, together with the large droplets that we exhale when we sneeze, cough or speak, and that can “fly” about two meters, they can There are other smaller droplets, aerosols, that could remain “floating in the environment” for several hours and reach distances greater than two meters. This does not mean that when one sets foot on the street and breathes, one will happily inhale the virus. But experts warn us that we must be careful in closed spaces, especially if there is not good ventilation, where there is accumulation of people for a long time. Several of these conditions can take place in some means of transport and therefore, if we are going to travel, it is important to do it in the safest way possible. These are some keys to know:
1. The big lottery: the seat neighbor. Contact with an infected person within an airplane is defined by the World Health Organization as sitting in the two rows immediately in front of or behind the patient’s row. That is, five rows in total. For this reason, the continuous use of a mask is essential.
2. What mask do I wear to travel? Various factors are involved here. But given the difficulty of knowing if our neighbors, or ourselves, are infected, and given the impossibility of keeping the safety distance in some means of transport, the ideal would be to use a mask that offers us maximum protection. That is, of the FFP2 type. And here comes the second lottery. In our country, for the ordinary citizen, obtaining an FFP2 certified mask is practically impossible at the moment. The most we can hope for is the Chinese standard KN95 that has been allowed to be imported (the white ones with the rubber bands that fit the ears). Unfortunately we are verifying in numerous control tests that many batches of masks that claim to be KN95 do not meet 95% particle filtration. Hence the continuous withdrawals that are being carried out. In summary, using a KN95 may be our best option, but right now it does not guarantee the same protection as an EPI. In any case, the reality is even more complicated because there are few who can afford the 5-6 that each of these masks lasts for eight hours, and more if it is for traveling on a regular basis. As well as the KN95 masks are not the most comfortable to wear for several hours (the tissue is “chubby” and many people are overwhelmed), hygienic or surgical masks are common companions in transport. Remember that these masks protect the rest but do not protect us.
3. Do HEPA filters protect us? Hepa stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air. Modern aircraft use high-quality HEPA filters that renew cabin air periodically. These filters can reduce the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus “in the environment, that is, the” floating aerosols “that we were talking about. However, as we have already mentioned, the large lottery in an airplane is the person who occupies adjoining seats. Not even the best HEPA filter is able to neutralize in real time the large drops that can reach you from the sneeze of your seat neighbor. Also remember that the quality of the filters of other means of transport, such as train, it is minor and we cannot even entrust ourselves to them.
4. Is there a safer seat than another? Especially on long flights, people do not stay in their seats throughout the trip. Most of them get up to stretch their legs or go to the bathroom as, on the other hand, it is logical. This circumstance makes people who occupy seats in the aisle more exposed to the continuous walks of the travelers. Therefore, taking a seat by the window and moving as little as possible can help us reduce contacts.
5. Is the problem only within the means of transportation? No. The truth is that the “danger” is also out there. Possible queues that form when buying tickets or boarding, seats in waiting rooms or crowds when leaving the means of transport or picking up luggage are, among others, critical points where it is difficult avoid crowds if all travelers do not collaborate. The crew, the onboard personnel and the public address messages alert to the rules. But finally it is the passenger who has the responsibility to follow them.
6. To eat or not to eat? Recommendations on the mandatory use of a mask go into the background as soon as a passenger gets his sandwich time and takes it off to eat. I understand that banning eating from transportation is not an option. But this exception to its use shows that there are many difficult critical points to resolve where the door is left open to the virus. While you eat the sandwich you cough, clear your throat, use a napkin, put your hands to your mouth. Hands with which he then touches the common armrest. We are not spared HEPA filters from all this, I’m afraid.
7. Is it useful to take the temperature? Infrared thermographic cameras can be a complementary measure, but remember that not every coronavirus causes fever, nor is any fever due to the coronavirus. In addition, they only measure the temperature in the superficial layers of the skin and the results can be “falsified” relatively easily, even with a refreshing baby wipe.
In summary: Traveling by public transport is a sustainable way of traveling that is part of life. It is part not only of our leisure but also of our work. The economic revival also passes through the reactivation of transport services. But this necessary evil should not put a blindfold on reality: when many people gather under the same roof without keeping their distance, with masks of different quality (even with the possibility of someone removing it), the risk exists. It is up to our leaders, companies and, of course, ourselves that this risk is minimized.
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