As COVID-19 numbers continue to drop and masking requirements are lifted in even more “blue” states, will the federal mask mandate on airplanes and other modes of transportation expire on March 18? 2022?
Will the mandate of the American mask be extended one last time in 2022?
As the deadline approaches for the U.S. federal mask mandate, which requires masking on board all modes of transportation and at public transit facilities, we have heard no word from the Transportation Security Administration or the Biden administration on whether he will be extended again.
During his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden did not address the mask mandate, but neither did he wear a mask in the House chamber. White House press secretary Jen Psaki explained that the reason for Biden’s choice to ditch his signature mask was due to new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines that link recommended mask use hospitalization rates rather than the number of cases.
Political analysts have predicted the Biden administration will lift the mask mandate at some point well before November’s midterm elections so the Democratic White House can declare victory over COVID-19, a move Democrats hope strengthen his chances of retaining power in both houses of Congress.
While airplanes represent a unique environment in which people share limited common space for an extended period of time, unlike concert halls or cinemas, high-quality HEPA filter systems constantly recirculate air, minimizing the risk of spread of the virus.
Flight attendants have been vague to say the least about their support for a mask mandate extension. For example, the AFA-CWA, a union representing more than 50,000 flight attendants, issued a rare correction, dismissing earlier reports that it advocated an extension. Yet he stopped advocating for its removal.
This “wait and see” approach makes sense because masks are essentially a “choose your poison” remedy. Air rage and violence continue to be high and are often linked to masks. There are credible reasons to believe that once the mask mandate is lifted, the number of onboard disruptions will decrease, even if the lack of onboard masks increases the risk of virus transmission.
I am ready for the mask mandate to end because adequate protection exists for those who wish to protect themselves: N95 or KN95 masks are widely available and not only offer others protection from yourself, but offer you protection from others. With vaccines as well as these masks widely available, I think it is now up to everyone to figure out how best to protect themselves.
I predict that even if the mask mandate is briefly extended, it will be over by the summer. However, if I bet, I would expect the federal mandate to end and most airlines, which all had mask policies in place before the mandate, to reduce mask requirements as well.
As deaths from COVID-19 continue, more and more people are realizing that this virus will never be defeated. Yet tools are now widely available, such as N95 masks and vaccines, that help minimize risk, and like so many other things in life, this probably represents the best approach to dealing with the trade-offs between risk and what is lost (known and currently unknown) by taking an overly cautious approach.
I can’t wait to take off my mask on planes. Do you?
Image: Southwest Airlines/Stephen M. Keller