A passenger who tested negative still spread the coronavirus to 4 others on a flight

BA re-start flights from Manchester to London with strict COVID-19 measures including wearing masks at all times, social distancing and separate boarding and disembarking. 

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  • A study out of New Zealand found that a passenger who tested positive for the coronavirus still spread it to four passengers on the same flight.
  • While social distancing guidelines on the flight were followed, the flight didn’t require that masks be worn.
  • The study underscores the danger associated with holiday travel and why experts are predicting a huge spike in coronavirus cases following the Thanksgiving holiday.

A new peer-reviewed study from the New Zealand-based Institute of Environmental Science and Research details how a passenger on a flight from Dubai to New Zealand managed to spread the virus to four other passengers sitting in his vicinity. What makes the report unique, if not worrisome, is that the individual who spread the virus had previously taken a coronavirus test that came up negative.

The flight in question took place on September 29 and one of the key factors worth mentioning is that in-flight masks were not required. While the study notes that it’s possible the passengers became infected at another time — perhaps at the airport — it adds that “the close proximity of the relevant passengers on board during the flight suggests that in-flight transmission is plausible.”

The complexities involved with testing for and observing a coronavirus infection led the researchers to the conclusion that anyone flying into New Zealand should automatically be considered to be coronavirus positive as a preventative measure. As it stands now, anyone entering New Zealand is required to quarantine for a 14-day period.

“While not definitive,” the report notes, “these findings underscore the importance of considering all international arrivals into New Zealand as potentially infected with SARS-CoV-2 even if pre-departure tests have been undertaken, social distancing and spacing have been followed and personal protective equipment has been used in flight.”

Indeed, the research found that some of the passengers who contracted the coronavirus on the flight were seated four to five rows behind the passenger who likely boarded the flight with the coronavirus.

While flying with a mask on is generally considered safe on account of air filtration on planes, the entire flying process itself is what has many experts advising against holiday travel this week. Recall, the TSA over a 2-day period last week checked in more than 2 million passengers, a figure the TSA hasn’t seen since the pandemic began. With so many people crowding in airports, and with some people perhaps not taking safety precautions as seriously as they should, flying is a risk that should be avoided if at all possible.

To this point, Dr. Fauci and the CDC have both implored Americans to avoid traveling home for the Thanksgiving holiday this week.

“You may have to bite the bullet and sacrifice that social gathering,” Fauci said last month, “unless you’re pretty certain that the people that you’re dealing with are not infected either.”

As a final point, it’s worth noting that we’ve seen previous reports of someone with a negative coronavirus test spreading the virus to others. Recall, a 13-year old who tested negative this summer ended up spreading the virus to more than 10 family members she was staying with at a summer house. The 13-year old was asymptomatic and had tested negative via a rapid antigen test in the days before the trip. The main takeaway from that story is that rapid antigen tests simply aren’t as reliable as PCR tests which are done with nasal swabs.