As we approach the start of another month where the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on the United States, Dr. Jay Joshi cannot fathom why one obvious mode to spread COVID-19 is completely ignored.
Recent CDC data shows that even with social distancing, people who dined in restaurants had a two-and-a-half-fold increase in positive COVID-19 cases.
So, what happens when we shove over a hundred people in a small metal cylindrical tube, also known as an airplane, for hours ignoring all social distancing, removing masks to eat and drink, and breathing other people’s air? It is ripe for the spread of the virus, especially considering that many infected people are asymptomatic and can carry the virus for over 3 weeks.
There have also been reports of how a single infected passenger has infected at least 15 passengers, and that does not account for how many people those 15 other passengers infected2. Furthermore, research studies published by the CDC state “our results strongly suggest in-flight transmission of SARS-CoV-2”2 and “the risk for on-board transmission of SARS-CoV-2 during long flights is real and has the potential to cause COVID-19 clusters of substantial size, even in business class–like settings”3.
The CDC states that nearly 11,000 passengers have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, but the number may be higher as there is no effective contract tracing in place5. That could mean that tens of thousands more people have had secondary exposure. That could imply thousands of deaths using current statistical modeling.
Shockingly, only two airports in America, JFK, and Newark International Airport, have any COVID-19 testing programs in place. However, those programs are limited in scope, no doubt due to a litany of bureaucracy and regulations. Numerous international airports have well-executed COVID-19 testing programs where they can test thousands of people a day. The glaring question is if programs can be implemented in countries with a fraction of the cases and resources that we have in America, what is holding up here?
Jay Joshi, MD, a nationally recognized double board-certified and fellowship-trained anesthesiologist and interventional pain management physician, explains his frustration with this reality in America, saying,
“I have reached out to numerous leaders of large airports and airlines and I’ve yet to receive a logical response. In some cases, I was ignored completely. In other cases, especially when I reached out to the airlines, they dismissively stated that there is nothing wrong with any of their safety protocols and that testing of passengers is not necessary. They stated that results take 7 days to come back. They were not even aware of rapid testing.”
Dr. Joshi continued, “After they found out that I was a physician who is very familiar with testing patients at my locations in multiple states, they promptly said nothing further and ended the conversation.”
There seems to be a clear financial motive in not testing patients. The perception is that positive COVID tests will result in a loss of ticket revenue. This ideology is financially shortsighted and morally wrong.
According to Dr. Joshi:
- Testing is the key to opening domestic and international travel
- Airports and Airline officials are too afraid to take meaningful action because they do not know what direction to pivot
- Airports and Airlines are afraid to lose ticket revenue from a passenger who has tested positive
- Universal COVID-19 testing would give society peace of mind to travel and, as a result, exponentially increase the number of passengers and revenues
- As currently constructed, Airlines and Airports are complicit in the spread of COVID-19.
- If airlines and airports were physicians, they would be sanctioned and sued for malpractice.
- As exposure to the airline industry’s shortcomings on testing, the industry will pivot and implement rapid COVID-19 testing soon.