Dr Anthony Fauci has said he cannot see the end of mask wearing on planes, despite airline executives being at pains to stress the efficacy of their air purification systems.
On Wednesday, Gary Kelly, the CEO of Southwest Airlines, said that that ‘masks don’t add much, if anything’ in fighting the spread of COVID-19 on airplanes.
Fauci, chief medical advisor to Joe Biden, said he did not share Kelly’s view. Kelly himself tested positive the day after his Congress testimony.
Asked on Sunday during an interview on ABC’s Meet the Press whether he thought the end of face masks on planes was in sight, Fauci replied: ‘I don’t think so.’
He continued: ‘I think when you’re dealing with a closed space, even though the filtration is good, that you want to go that extra step.
‘When you have people, you know you get a flight from Washington to San Francisco, it’s a well over a five hour flight.
‘Even though you have a good filtration system, I still believe that masks are a prudent thing to do and we should be doing it.’
Dr Anthony Fauci on Sunday morning appeared on ABC’S This Week, and said face masks were still necessary on planes
Jonathan Karl, hosting, asked Fauci whether he felt masks on planes would soon become obsolete. Fauci replied: ‘I don’t think so’
A federal mandate on face masks on planes has been in place since February, and will remain for the foreseeable future, Fauci said. Pictured is a plane in May 2020, before the mandate was in place
Wearing a face mask on airplanes has now become routine
Fauci did say on NBC’s Meet the Press that people who were fully vaccinated did not need to isolate if they came into contact with an infected person.
‘If you are vaccinated and you get exposed, you don’t need to isolate yourself,’ Fauci said.
‘Some people (do), and I think it would be prudent to wind up getting tested.’
Kelly, 66, sat during Wednesday’s Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing – entitled ‘Oversight of the U.S. Airline Industry’ – between American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, who were also maskless, for roughly three hours.
Seated to Kirby’s left was Delta Air Line COO John Laughter and Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA).
Kelly, who plans to retire in early 2022, received a positive test result on Thursday after experiencing mild symptoms.
The spokesman said that Kelly is fully vaccinated and boosted, and tested negative ‘multiple’ times before the Wednesday hearing.
All four of the other panel members at the hearing — Parker, Kirby, Laughter and Nelson — tested negative on Friday and would continue to get tested and monitor for symptoms, CNBC reported.
At the hearing, all four airline executives said they were confident the HEPA filtration systems were keeping travelers safe.
‘I think we all generally agree now that the cycle of the way air turns over in a pressurized air cabin, and the filtration system is superior to many indoor spaces that you can be,’ said Laughter, Delta’s COO.
‘The airplane is the safest place that you can be indoors,’ said Kirby, CEO of United.
Parker, the CEO of American Airlines, added: ‘The aircraft is the safest place you can be.’
Yet Nelson, who represents more than 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, said the filtration was useful, but that other layers of protection were also essential.
‘So it is important to recognize that the safe controlled environment on the plane is a layered safety protocol, which includes the sanitation of the aircraft and includes the service procedures and includes the HEPA filtration that is not on all aircraft, by the way, and it includes everyone wearing the masks.’
Nelson pointed out that not all aircraft have HEPA filtration and not all passengers are vaccinated.
On Thursday, as news of Kelly’s diagnosis spread, and people questioned the wisdom of him downplaying face masks, Delta CEO Ed Bastien – who was not at the hearing – told CNBC he did not agree with the other airline executives’ assessment on the mask issue.
‘Particularly when we see omicron continuing to enter into our country, masks are going to be important as a safeguard for a while yet,’ Bastien said.
Parker then his position on Instagram.
‘I agreed with my fellow CEOs that being onboard a plane is proven to be a safe and healthy indoor environment,’ he wrote.
‘I did so by saying, ‘I concur,’ and then talked about air quality.
‘I didn’t mention masks or the federal mask mandate, but my concurrence was ambiguous and it is my fault for not being clearer in my response.
‘We support the federal mask mandate. Full stop.
‘It was issued by the TSA and in consultation with CDC and other health experts to protect the safety and well-being of our customers and team members.’