Published on April 26, 2022

young woman in airplane wearing a mask

Traveling Soon? Why Wearing a Mask Might Still Make Sense

Masks to slow COVID-19 spread no longer are mandated on airplanes.

Yet we’re heading into the busiest travel season – and lingering coronavirus variants. Here are the facts on the latest, unfolding chapter in the pandemic story.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines still suggest the use of masks in crowded places. There are also still settings where masks are still required, including clinics and hospitals which apply CDC guidelines to protect both staff and patients.

Masks Still Work

People who need greater protection can get it simply by wearing a surgical mask. Surgical masks are widely available and easier to use than the more cumbersome KN95 or an N95 respirator-type mask.

All three options will reduce the likelihood of infection from COVID-19 or other illnesses.

“Airplanes offer some filtration of air, but they are enclosed spaces,” said David Basel, MD, Avera Medical Group Vice President of Clinical Quality. “People with higher risk, such as immune compromised individuals, should keep wearing surgical masks.”

Even if you’re not at higher risk, you can wear a mask to be extra cautious. And at the same time, you might protect yourself from coming home with an unwanted common cold, flu or sore throat.

Talk to your provider before you book your tickets; he or she can advise you, especially if you have a condition that might require more diligent protection.

The Most At-Risk Groups Need the Most Protection

Masks, vaccination boosters and other steps help people who might have the most potential risk due to COVID-19. That includes:

  • People who are 50 and older
  • People with preexisting conditions that can make the illness worse, such as obesity or diabetes
  • People who with diseases like cancer or other conditions that result in a weaker immune systems

“It is your decision. For some, wearing a mask on a flight might be smart, but they might not wear one at the grocery store,” Basel said.

Think About Where You’re Headed

If you’re booking a vacation, don’t assume numbers are down everywhere. In some regions of the country, cases are increasing. “We’re in a process of returning to normal,” Basel said. “But that process will not unfold everywhere at the same pace.”

Testing at home can help with peace of mind as well.

Variants are Unpredictable

COVID-19 numbers have trended down over the last few months yet variants remain active. The new BA.2 variant could be more spreadable than its predecessors.

“It remains challenging to contain this virus because of mutations,” Basel said. “New forms of the virus can come to light.”

Basel said in pandemic history, it’s typical that an illness will create three large “waves” of impact, followed by smaller ones. Even with that history, COVID-19 variants could lead to “super-spreaders” occurring on mass transit, like planes.

Stay Home if You’re Sick

One new “normal” reality Basel stresses is the importance of testing and personal accountability. If you feel cold and flu-like symptoms, stay home for the sake of your coworkers, family and the public.

“It’s still true that you could expose someone who’s older and sicker,” he said. “At-home testing kits work, and they play an important role now.”

If you test positive, contact your primary care provider. Effective treatments are available that can greatly reduce the likelihood of a bad outcome.

Remember: more than 1 million Americans have died due to this illness. Learn how to keep you, your loved ones and the public safe.

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Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.