In September the CDC drafted an order to require masks on all public and commercial transportation in the U.S. The White House coronavirus task force blocked the order.
[T]he order would have required face coverings on airplanes, trains, buses and subways, and in transit hubs such as airports, train stations and bus depots.
A task force official said the decision to require masks should be left up to states and localities.
This is supposedly to be viewed as shocking meddling with public health guidance that can save lives. But there is a real argument that mask mandates should start and stop at different times in different places – if there’s one thing that is consistent about the virus and how it’s experienced it’s heterogeneity. The same policy doesn’t make sense everywhere potentially even within the same state.
For as bad as Texas was hit with Covid-19 over the summer, did you know there are still counties here that haven’t had a single confirmed case throughout the pandemic? (Officials in counties with fewer than 1.5 cases per day on average over a two week period can request to opt out of the state’s mask mandate.)
In places where there’s mask skepticism an order may work for a certain amount of time before people tire of it, and you want to use the time where you’re going to get maximum compliance to greatest effect. Remember that mask skepticism stems in part from mixed messaging coming out of CDC in the first place, which has made it harder to gain compliance.
I’m going to express an unpopular view, and perhaps draw significant hate in the comments. If you like masks, you probably think mandating them is good. If you hate masks, you probably think mandating them is bad. This is a post everyone can hate on though because it’s pro-mask and anti-mandate.
I’m an advocate of masks and have been since long before the CDC found religion on this issue. But I don’t think a nationwide transportation mask mandate imposed by the CDC is the best way to approach mask compliance. Here’s why.
- Like with everything else from the CDC during the pandemic this comes extremely late, after it’s of little use. They blew testing early in the pandemic, distributing a test – the only one permitted – that didn’t work. The government wouldn’t allow use of tests other than the flawed CDC one. They also blew orders to screen and track international arriving passengers, which let the virus spread. They downplayed asymptomatic and presymptomatic spread, and until last month denied spread via aerosols. Their track record here is poor.
- All commercial airlines of significance in the U.S. already require masks. Even Allegiant no longer even lets passengers substitute a face shield for a mask.
- The CDC has consistently been meddled with throughout the pandemic. The agency keeps leaking the ways that their guidance has been interfered with. But that only makes them look bad because they take it. There haven’t been mass resignations of leadership. They appear to care more about retaining their jobs than speaking truth about the virus to the public.
- It took so long for people to start wearing masks because CDC guidance told them not to. This was an intentional lie, meant to keep people from buying respirator masks that were in short supply. They wanted to preserve ‘good’ masks for hospital workers and for the government itself.
CDC does not currently recommend the use of facemasks to help prevent novel #coronavirus. Take everyday preventive actions, like staying home when you are sick and washing hands with soap and water, to help slow the spread of respiratory illness. #COVID19 https://t.co/uArGZTJhXj pic.twitter.com/yzWTSgt2IV
— CDC (@CDCgov) February 27, 2020
- Mask skepticism traces in part to the mixed messages the CDC and government has sent about the effectiveness of masks. They’re he wrong ones to be carrying the message about the importance of masks.
Ultimately the recommendation of CDC scientists comes late, after their own bungling of the mask issue, and where the political process in the U.S. has largely done better than they have with masks throughout the country. And while it’s important to listen to scientists (despite the way CDC has consistently performed poorly in 2020), the advice necessarily has to run through a political process that takes what’s possible into account. If people in South Dakota, for instance, are only going to accept a mask mandate for a couple of months then when the mandate is imposed matters a lot. Doing it for the whole country at the same time, when the virus itself hasn’t spread evenly, may not be the best policy.
I’ve been a consistent advocate of masks, even when the CDC was saying they weren’t necessary. I advocated masks for flight attendants when American Airlines was punishing flight attendants who wore them. I’m no coronavirus skeptic, having been covering it since January and writing about stocking up on supplies in February before most people were taking it seriously here, and commenters were telling me I was nuts, that this was ‘just the flu’.
Still, the CDC deciding all of a sudden in September that masks should be required on public and commercial transportation throughout the country until the agency decides to lift the requirement isn’t the best way to target mask compliance.