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Verify: Planes, not grocery stores or restaurants, are safer in regard to COVID

Scientists studied air quality in different public locations and found fewer particles in the air make planes safer than most.

ATLANTA — In an informal 11Alive poll, we asked people where they have felt safest during the pandemic. After more than 200 answers, grocery stores overwhelmingly won. 

People commented that grocery stores are rarely crowded and aisles are "big enough" for people to socially distance themselves. But are they actually safer than airplanes? 

We take a look at a newly released scientific study to verify. 

THE QUESTION 

Are grocery stores and restaurants safer than being inside a plane? 

THE ANSWER 

This is false. Because of the air quality and consistent mask requirements, flying is safer than going to the grocery store or a local restaurant. 

WHAT WE FOUND 

A newly released Georgia Tech study focused on how improving air quality may reduce COVID-19 transmission. 

In it, experts analyze the air quality in different locations, including aircraft, stores, office spaces, and restaurants. 

"The ventilation rate and clean air supply are really important to lower the particle number concentration in the space and also reduce the risk of airborne transmission of diseases," Dr. Sally Ng, the Georgia Tech Associate Professor working on the study explained. 

The study measured concentration, finding that aircraft cabins had the lowest levels of aerosol particles. She explained that planes exchange air 10 to 30 times per hour, often passing through specialized onboard ventilation systems which filter our 99-percent of particles. 

RELATED: VERIFY: Why you shouldn't turn down the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to wait for the others

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said airplanes are required to provide at least 0.55 pounds of fresh air per minute per occupant.

The FAA said it also requires manufacturers to "show that the airplane crew and passenger compartment air is free from harmful or hazardous concentrations of gases and vapors". 

Harvard University researchers used computer models to compare ventilation in planes and found that the risk of COVID-19 transmission on aircraft is less than in grocery stores or eating out. 

"It is lower because the passenger number is lower because during the pandemic not many people travel and also everyone is asked to wear a mask. So one thing I hope the public takes away is that it's important to wear a mask," Dr. Ng said. 

According to the Georgia Tech study, restaurants had the highest particle levels "because of cooking being done there", followed by stores, vehicles, homes, and offices.  

So, we can verify that, with proper precautions, planes are actually safer when it comes to the spread of COVID-19 than grocery stores and restaurants.