Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, James Hamblin takes questions from readers about health-related curiosities, concerns, and obsessions. Have one? Email him at email@example.com.
Dear Dr. Hamblin,
I’m a healthy 76-year-old thinking about taking a nonstop flight from Las Vegas to Baltimore. I want to see my daughter and her family, including my grandkids, who have been fantastic about quarantining. I could self-isolate in their basement. For the flight, I have an N95 mask and gloves, and I could get a protective face shield. And as icing on the cake, I can wear a diaper to avoid public restrooms.
Should I get on that plane?
I think you should feel confident about getting on that plane.
The measures you’re taking should keep you safe. But more than anything else, the thoughtfulness you show in the planning here suggests you’ll do everything vigilantly. Our safety in confined indoor spaces like airplanes depends on the collective efforts of individuals, and you’re clearly not the type to just wear a mask around your chin or performatively wash your hands only if people are looking.
That said, I don’t think you need to wear a diaper. Every airport bathroom in the United States should have functional exhaust fans that expel any lingering, potentially infectious toilet plume after you flush. If you’re wearing a mask, the ordeal should be a low-risk proposition. The same goes for the flight itself: An airplane toilet shouldn’t aerosolize the virus any more than a typical toilet. But the surfaces in airplane bathrooms could very possibly be coated in the virus, because every part of the tiny room is touched regularly by many people. I’d operate under the same assumption in any bathroom right now, and wash my hands accordingly.