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 U.S. Mask Mandate Be Extended One Last Time In 2022?
As the deadline looms for the U.S. federal mask mandate, which requires masking onboard all modes of transit and in transit facilities, we’ve heard nary a word from the Transportation Security Administration or the Biden Administration on whether it will be extended again.
During his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden did not address the mask mandate, but also did not wear a mask in the House chamber. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki explained that the reason for Biden’s choice to abandon his signature mask was due to new Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance that ties recommended mask usage to hospitalization rates rather than case numbers.
Political analysts have predicted that the Biden Administration will lift the mask mandate at some point well-before the November midterm elections so that the Democratic White House can declare victory over COVID-19, a move Democrats hope will buoy its chances to hold on to power in both chambers of Congress.
While airplanes represent a unique environment in which people share limited common space for an extended period, unlike concert halls or movie theaters, high-grade HEPA filter systems constantly recirculate air, minimizing the risk of virus spread.
Flight attendants have been vague, to say the least, on whether they support an extension of the mask mandate. For example, the AFA-CWA, a union representing over 50,000 flights attendants, issued a rare correction, dismissing earlier reports that it was advocating for an extension. Yet it has stopped far short of advocating for its removal.
This “wait and see” approach makes sense because masks are essentially a “pick your poison” remedy. Air rage and violence continues to be elevated and is often tied to masks. There is credible reason to believe that once the mask mandate is lifted, the number of onboard disturbances will lessen, even if the lack of masks aboard increases the risk for virus transmission.
I’m 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 don’t just offer others protection from yourself, but offer you protection from others. With vaccines as well as those masks widely available, I believe it is now up to each person to determine how best to protect themselves.
I predict even if the mask mandate is briefly extended, it will be over by summer. However, if I was betting man, I expect the federal mandate to end and most airlines, all of which had mask polices in place before the mandate, to scale back mask requirements as well.
While deaths with COVID-19 continue, more are realizing that this virus will never be defeated. Yet tools are now widely available, like N95 masks and vaccines, that help to minimize risk, and like so much else in life, that likely represents the best approach to dealing with the tradeoffs between risk and what is forfeited (known and currently unknown) by taking an overly-cautious approach.
I look forward to taking my mask off on airplanes. Do you?
image: Southwest Airlines / Stephen M. Keller