Harvard study says flying can be safer than eating at a restaurant

Using these and other measures as part of a layered approach could push the risk of catching the virus on a plane below that of other activities, including grocery shopping and eating at a restaurant, researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health concluded.

“Though a formidable adversary, SARS-CoV-2 need not overwhelm society’s capacity to adapt and progress,” the report said. “It is possible to gain a measure of control and to develop strategies that mitigate spread of the disease while allowing a careful reopening of sectors of society.”

This study, from the industry-funded Aviation Public Health Initiative, is likely to be cited by airlines and plane manufacturers as they continue to try to convince the public that it is safe to fly as long as proper precautions are taken.

The Harvard study follows the recent release of a Defense Department study that concluded that wearing a mask continuously while flying could reduce the spread of the virus because of how air is filtered and circulated on an airplane. Along with previous research, the two studies further bolster the case for wearing face coverings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recently updated its guidance on face coverings to say that it “strongly recommends” that masks be worn on all forms of public and commercial transportation.

The Harvard team included experts on environmental health, industrial hygiene and infectious diseases whose goal was to develop a “comprehensive understanding of the intersection between the science informing SARS-CoV-2 transmission and the operations in the aviation environment.”

In this instance, they focused on strategies to protect people during what they called the “gate-to-gate” part of their journey. A second study, expected in early 2021, will look at the science and recommend strategies to safely manage the “curb-to-curb” portion of a traveler’s journey.

It is being funded by airlines, airports and aircraft manufacturers.

Leonard Marcus, founding co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a collaborative effort of the Harvard School of Public Health and the Kennedy School of Government, said that the industry’s involvement with the study did not influence the team’s findings.

“There were open conversations back and forth and we were very adamant about maintaining our independence,” Marcus said. “We felt that the lines were drawn well enough for us to conduct our independent research.” He declined to say how much the study cost.

Since the pandemic began, many have viewed air travel with suspicion in part because it places people in an enclosed space with others for a significant amount of time — behavior that runs counter to much of the guidance from health officials.

The CDC, for example, continues to caution that air travel presents some risks because of those factors.

Researchers have identified examples where the virus may have been transmitted while travelers were on board an aircraft. In one instance, a woman flying from London to Hanoi in March appears to have infected as many as 15 other passengers and crew members. In another case, researchers

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Harvard researcher estimates COVID-19 has cost US 2.5 million years of life

A Harvard researcher who looked at the life expectancy of 200,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus estimates COVID-19 has cost the United States 2.5 million years of life.

The researcher, molecular biologist and geneticist Stephen Elledge, is the Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, both located in Boston, USA Today reported.

Elledge arrived at his findings by estimating the remaining years of life those 200,000 COVID-19 victims likely had. He found that many of those who died were in middle age, and not elderly.

“It was really pretty shocking,” Elledge told USA Today, adding, “the younger half of that population are losing just as much life as the old people. And they really need to know it.”

The genetics professor said many of those killed by the disease could have lived decades more if not for the pandemic.

“Someone who dies in their 50s, for example, loses two to three decades of life expectancy,” said Elledge. He also said COVID-19 may have lasting effects on patients post-infection, and that its effects on young people later in their lives is unknown.

“You’re pushing your age forward,” he said. “All the people who make it through, who knows what’s going to happen to them when they get older.”

Elledge’s work typically encompasses DNA studies, though he wrote up his ideas about cumulative lost years due to COVID-19 deaths using simple calculations in an online report.

He said his findings were aligned with calculations he conducted earlier in the pandemic, adding that he is seeking to get them published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal soon.

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