- American Airlines is the latest US carrier to ban masks with valves or vents on them, keeping in line with updated guidelines from the CDC.
- Masks with valves allow exhaled air to flow unhindered through the vents, which can mean that respiratory droplets containing COVID-19 virus can reach others.
- In general, passengers can still wear valved masks, if they cover them with a second, non-vented mask.
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American Airlines on Thursday became the latest airline to ban passengers from wearing face masks that have valves or vents, a feature that some say make the masks more comfortable, but which effectively eliminates their ability to stop the spread of COVID-19.
American said the new policy would take effect on Wednesday, August 19. Face coverings with one-way valves allow air to be exhaled without passing through any kind of filter or barrier, which can allow respiratory droplets containing the COVID-19 virus to linger in the air and potentially reach others. Alaska, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and United have all made the same move.
The changes reflect guidelines that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated last week to say that vented masks do “not prevent the person wearing the mask from transmitting COVID-19 to others.”
“An effective covering, worn properly, is one of the best ways we can control the spread of COVID-19 to protect our team members and customers,” Alison Taylor, American’s chief customer officer, said in a press release. “Since American began requiring face coverings in early May, the vast majority of customers have welcomed our continuing efforts to strengthen the policy based on the CDC’s guidance.”
As Americans sought protective equipment early in the pandemic, many face coverings with vents ended up in circulation. Those masks are typically geared toward hot or dusty construction work, where exhaled air does not create a hazard. Which means that they may protect the people wearing them, just not anyone else.
N95s and other masks made for medical settings do not have valves. Public health experts recommend wearing such masks to prevent respiratory droplets and aerosols containing the virus from spreading into the air from infected people, although masks can also have a degree of direct protection for the wearer.
American said that masks made of porous fabrics like mesh or lace would also be prohibited. Masks must also cover the passengers nose and mouth, and may only be removed briefly while eating or drinking on board a flight.
On most airlines, passengers can wear a protective, vented mask if they cover it with a disposable, non-vented mask.
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