Visualization Shows How Droplets From a Single Cough Can Infect Entire Airplane

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With flights nearly empty and travelers putting travel itineraries on hold due to coronavirus, a new visualization depicts the potential for the virus to spread inside an airplane cabin.

The visual designed by Purdue University shows how cautious travelers need to be while flying amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The moving picture shows the aftermath of a single cough on an airplane, with droplets traveling throughout the cabin and possibly infecting other passengers. Covering your nose and mouth has never seemed so crucial.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, air travel is down 95% from normal levels. As countries and states begin to reopen slowly, many wonder if people will feel comfortable traveling on airplanes?

It’s no question that passenger cabins have always been a place for all kinds of germs to spread due to close proximity.

While Boeing has reported that it has been experimenting with bathrooms that can clean themselves and kill 99% of germs within seconds, most airlines had not expected a viral outbreak to upend the entire industry.

“When you can easily sell your airplanes, you try to defer the problems to the future,” Qingyan Chen, a Purdue University engineering professor, said. Chen helped lead a crucial FAA-funded project that researched disease transmission on airplanes.

As part of the project, Chen worked alongside Boeing engineers to see whether changing an airplane’s ventilation system would affect the risk of contracting SARS.

The research found that passengers sitting next to a SARS patient in a seven-row section of a Boeing 767 would have a one-in-three chance of getting sick from a flight that was five hours long. If the trip was shorter, the risk was one in five.

On a positive note, they deduced that if the plane's ventilation was altered to have it air circulate from the floor instead of from above, the risk of getting ill could be reduced by at least half.

The study assumed that SARS could stay airborne for long periods. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not reported that information about the coronavirus.

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