HONOLULU (KHON2) — Masking up on public transportation is now a personal choice, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should stop wearing a face covering.
Here in the islands the ruling Monday by a federal judge against the public transportation mask mandate impacts local residents more than perhaps any other population in the nation with our lengthy flights.
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Experts KHON2 spoke with say flying is now riskier, and those at the highest risk should now focus on protecting themselves.
“If you had a whole bunch of people with COVID basically sitting there filtration system alone is not going to protect you and that’s where I think when they had the mask plus the filtration system that I do think flying was comparatively safe,” East-West Center senior research fellow Dr. Tim Brown said.
Things have changed since the early studies about COVID on planes according to Dr. Brown, who says newer strains like Omicron BA2 are much more contagious. He believes the traditional six-foot safety bubble should be more than 12 feet now.
Another risk is unmasked staff.
“I could still see a potential for risk if you have an employee who’s working on a plane who may be asymptomatic and going around to people who are no longer masking,” Hawaii Pandemic Applied Modeling Group epidemiologist Dr. Thomas Lee said.
As for those who should keep wearing masks on planes, it’s not just the immunocompromised.
“If you’re really overweight, that is now known to be a very significant factor,” Dr. Scott Miscovich of Premier Medical Group Hawaii said. “If you have a lung disease like asthma or a heavy smoker where you have that heavy smokers cough, heart disease, prior heart disease, you need to be wearing a mask,”
Dr. Miscovich adds those who have yet to get a booster vaccine. Many parents are now facing tough decisions about traveling.
“If you have kids who are under five who are unable to get vaccinated, then as a parent, your risk calculus changes, so you’re gonna probably try to put yourself in a situation where if you have to travel you’re going to do everything you can to protect your keiki and yourself,” Dr. Lee said.
That’s where mask quality could make a big difference.
“They are now customizing good quality masks to fit the younger children. So please find a mask that is made for kids under five,” Dr. Miscovich said.
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As for what kind of masks to wear, the experts say don’t rely on a cloth mask for protection. The best mask is an n95, which they say is plentiful and is even being given away by the federal government. Miscovich says a kn95 should also do the trick.