CDC: Empty middle seats on planes can reduce COVID-19 exposure by up to 57%

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study Wednesday stating that leaving middle seats open on aircraft can reduce exposure to COVID-19 between 23% and 57%. File Photo courtesy of American Airlines

April 15 (UPI) — Leaving the middle seat open on an airplane can greatly reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure during flights, according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

Researchers from the CDC and Kansas State University conducted laboratory modeling which found that a passenger’s exposure to SARS-COV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, can be reduced by between 23% and 57% on wide-body and narrow-body planes where the middle seat is left open compared to a full-capacity flight.

The study used bacteriophage aerosols as surrogates for the virus to determine how far the coronavirus can spread during a flight.

According to the study, risk of exposure was reduced by 23% for passengers in the same row but two seats away from an infected person and 57% when middle seats were left empty in a section of three rows containing a mix of infected and non-infected passengers.

The study did not track the impact of wearing masks, which is required on flights, but noted that distancing remains useful as an infected person wearing a mask can still project aerosols.

“The findings in these studies indicate that masking seems to not eliminate all airborne exposures to infectious droplets and aerosols and support the importance of multicomponent prevention strategies as good practices, combining the effects of masking and distancing is more protective than either by itself,” the study states.

Earlier this month, the CDC said that vaccinated Americans can resume domestic travel with low risk of exposure to COVID-19, provided they wear masks in public.

A person is considered fully vaccinated by the CDC two weeks after receiving their final required dose.

Under the guidance, the agency said that vaccinated travelers do not require a COVID-19 test before or after travel and are not required to self-quarantine.


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