With fewer colds, some travelers are still masking up on planes

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(CNN) — Jessie Festa was sitting on an Alaska Airlines flight at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport waiting to take off for Pasco, Wash., when a flight attendant announced that wearing masks during the flight was no longer required .

“The reaction around me was jubilation,” Festa, a travel blogger who lives in New York, wrote via email. “Everyone started clapping and ripping off their masks.”

Festa, 35, said she also took hers off, ‘because the exciting feeling was almost contagious’. Then she put it back in place.

The news spread like wildfire among travelers on Monday after a federal judge in Florida overturned the federal mandate to wear masks at airports, on domestic flights and on other forms of public transportation. The US Department of Justice appealed the decision on Wednesday following a recommendation from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before mask use became widespread on planes and other places during the pandemic, Festa said, she always got sick after flying, either from getting a sinus infection or swollen lymph nodes. Since she started flying with a mask over her nose and mouth, Festa has noticed that she hasn’t been sick once.

“The ability to enjoy my travels without feeling sick far outweighs the slight discomfort of having a cloth over my face,” Festa said. She plans to continue masking on future flights.

More reasons to keep this mask

Travelers who feel the same way following the lifting of the mandate are onto something, said infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. , Tennessee.

Masks, when worn correctly and consistently, reduce the risk of transmitting and catching the virus that causes Covid-19 as well as other respiratory viruses, including colds and flu, he said. .

“Masks can both prevent viruses from spreading from me to you, and they can also protect me from you,” Schaffner said. This includes viruses that cause the common cold.

Some people continue to wear face masks this week, like these travelers at Orlando International Airport.

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

While stories of people taking a flight and catching a cold immediately afterwards are mostly anecdotal, Schaffner said it’s no surprise people catch colds two days after sitting next to someone. coughing and sneezing on an airplane.

Wearing a mask will “reduce the number of colds as well as flu and Covid viruses we can catch when we are indoors in exposed spaces, near other people,” he said. he declares.

For frequent flyer Benét J. Wilson, 58, who works for travel website The Points Guy, a noticeable reduction in her allergies — in addition to fewer colds — will keep her masked on planes, among other public spaces, in the foreseeable future. .

“I’m allergic to dust and pollen. My allergies were especially bad on airlines with fabric seats,” she said. “I strongly believe that my N95 mask protected me from irritants on airplanes that would cause my allergies to flare up.”

Dr. Robert Murphy, professor of infectious diseases and executive director of the Robert J. Havey, MD Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said “masks filter out many pathogens and allergens.”

In addition to helping protect against Covid-19, influenza and respiratory pathogens, masks can also help prevent the spread of viral pathogens such as rhinovirus, adenovirus and respiratory syncytial virus, a said Murphy.

Should we continue to hide on the ground?

A cancer survivor from St. Paul, Minnesota, with a weakened immune system, Jessica Kubis said she gets sick every time she flies. “But since I wear a mask at the airport and on the plane, I haven’t been there,” Kubis said. “It was glorious.

Kubis, 43, said she also attributed her improved overall health to no longer working in an office environment where people come to work sick and spread disease around the office.

Kubis continues to mask up on planes — and at the gym, in stores, concert halls and in restaurants outside of his table — to protect himself and others.

Immunocompromised people and those with underlying health conditions and those who live with a vulnerable person “should choose to mask up if they want to continue to avoid the coronavirus,” CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen said.

Airplanes pose a relatively low risk with regard to the transmission of Covid-19 due to the high degree of air circulation and high quality ventilation on board, except during boarding and disembarking, when it is there is no good ventilation. But Wen is more concerned about buses and subways which may not have as good ventilation “and where masks may no longer be necessary”.

Some flight attendants are relieved

Philadelphia-based flight attendants Rich Henderson and Andrew Kothlow of blog Two Guys on a Plane felt a “tremendous sense of relief” with the lifting of the mask mandate this week.
Flight attendants Andrew Kothlow, left, and Rich Henderson are happy to no longer be the face of the mask mandate.

Flight attendants Andrew Kothlow, left, and Rich Henderson are happy to no longer be the face of the mask mandate.

By Rich Henderson

“Some of the worst interactions we’ve ever had with passengers was over-enforcing the mask policy,” Henderson told CNN. “It doesn’t matter how nice you are to passengers about the mask policy, because there are people who get on board to fight.”

Their roles, Kothlow said, have gone from “aviation and travel security to being the face of mask mandates.”

“Now that wearing a mask is a personal choice, that extra tension in the air has been lifted,” he said. Henderson and Kothlow said they would continue to mask up in flight, with Henderson wearing a surgical mask and Kothlow a KN95. (N95 and KN95 masks offer better protection than cloth or surgical masks, according to the CDC.)

“Before Covid, I usually caught a cold about twice a year,” Henderson said. “Wearing a mask has kept me from getting sick at all, so I’m more than happy to continue wearing one, especially on planes.”

Moving forward into the new normal

Sean Harris, 39, a communications and events professional in San Francisco, said while the end of the mask mandate didn’t surprise him, he wished it had been handled differently.

“This should have been communicated to the public in advance, with the ability for those who are immunocompromised, with unvaccinated children, etc. to book or cancel without any penalty,” he wrote to CNN. “It shouldn’t have been done via the mid-flight AP announcement.”

Harris has had fewer colds since wearing a mask, but her decision to continue wearing a mask in crowded places and on an upcoming flight to her husband’s native Germany is to protect herself and others .

“Given that we will be interacting with families, friends and the general public who have pre-existing conditions and other risk factors that make them more susceptible to Covid-19, we choose to wear masks on our next trip. “, did he declare. mentioned.

Not catching colds and other illnesses has its advantages.

“I think a lot of people want to keep masking up to reduce their risk of getting different diseases,” Wen said. “Masking should be something that is allowed, encouraged and recommended, especially for vulnerable people but for anyone who wants to continue doing it.”

Schaffner predicted that some people may turn to masking again in future winters and flu seasons, now that they have a positive association with its effects.

“Masks aren’t perfectly protective. But people have found that they give them a level of protection and they’re not so dumb after all,” he said. “They’re cheap, easy to use correctly, and provide some level of protection.”


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