Are Mask Mandates Extending The Pandemic?

I’ve been very ‘pro-mask’ throughout the pandemic, arguing that flight attendants should be allowed to wear them back when airlines forbid it and the CDC wasn’t yet recommending it. I’ve even argued that conservatives should favor mask-wearing as a ‘conservative alternative to lockdowns’. I applauded JetBlue as the first U.S. airline to require masks for passengers. It helped build confidence to travel, knowing that everybody else on board would be wearing a mask.

However the federal transportation mask mandate is no longer useful, and may be counterproductive – even extending the pandemic in the United States.

Transportation was the focus of the federal mask mandate because it was the area where the government had the strongest legal ground (interstate commerce, although the statutory basis is questionable) not because air travel or even public transportation appears to be a primary vector spreading the virus. Airlines already universally required masks, and banned passengers that refused to wear them. The biggest change the federal rule put in place was creating new mask-wearing exceptions.

However the New York Times shares data that requiring mask-wearing by people that have been vaccinated discourages some people from getting vaccinated.

[L]arge increases in willingness to take vaccines emerged for those who were asked about getting a vaccine if doing so meant they wouldn’t need to wear a mask or social-distance in public, compared with a group that was told it would still have to do those things.

Among people most likely to skip vaccines, whether or not they still have to wear a mask makes the difference.

Credit: New York Times

Masks made a ton of sense for travel earlier in the pandemic. They were one additional layer of protection (though to be effective, people should have been wearing better masks and learning to wear them properly).

That was before vaccines were widely available in the United States. Now there’s more supply than demand. Anyone 16 and up who wants one can get one, this will expand to 12 year olds in a matter of days and young unvaccinated children are at less risk than vaccinated older adults.

Nearly everyone in the U.S. still at significant risk in the coming weeks has chosen to be at risk. What’s more, vaccines don’t just protect the vaccinated, they prevent spread. We should probably lift mask mandates anyway including indoor mandates, and inflight is one of the safest indoor congregant settings.

If we lifted mask mandates for the vaccinated, that would encourage vaccination, ending the pandemic sooner in the Untied States.

Conversely by maintaining mask mandates, even for the vaccinated, we reduce the impetus for some of the remaining unvaccinated to get a shot. That means those people are more likely to get the virus and more likely to spread it, and it has a greater opportunity to continue to mutate. By discouraging vaccination, more people get sick and die from Covid-19.

Of course, we should have tied the recent stimmie checks to vaccination. Payments of over $1000 – only to those who get vaccinated – would have been a strong incentive. But that ship passed. Continued mask mandates on planes when everyone who wishes to can already largely protect themselves could be making things worse.

I still plan to wear a mask during flu season, but federal mandates are no longer needed. If they’re going to remain in place for symbolic reasons, the symbolism should be used to encourage vaccination and end the pandemic more quickly, perhaps give out bright wrist bands to those that have been vaccinated which waives the mask requirement.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. I’ve stopped wearing masks most places. Had a security guard scream at me at the library. I got my book and walked out.
    Just stop wearing it. We need a national stop wearing a mask day to end this stupidity.

  2. @George: me me me me me me me me me me
    I swear people understood the concept of ‘public health’ better 100+ years ago

  3. Allow those who’ve been vaccinated to get rid of the masks, especially on airplanes. If people refuse to get vaccinated, they still need to wear theirs. I’m tired of the masks and I’m fully vaccinated. I didn’t do this just for me, but for people around me. And let’s be real, too. I’m sick of the masks, especially on flights. I’m going to Greece this summer and I can’t imagine wearing a mask for 11 hours. I’ll follow the rules, but I don’t agree with them.

  4. Masks have become a religion and name less, faceless bureaucrats our God. It’s pretty damn sad.

  5. Well, I’ve always been pro-mask as well and I got so used to them, it doesn’t bother me at all. I am also fully vaccinated already (despite being only 33, due to my Ulcerative Colitis medication, I’m in the risk group) but I don’t mind continuing wearing a mask.
    But this article is really interesting because I never looked at it from that perspective! And now that I read it, I do indeed personally know people who would be more open to vaccination if that meant not having to wear a mask anymore.
    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Masks work to reduce spread of this virus causing Covid-19.

    Don’t believe it? Then go ask Martin Bazant of MIT why it came across as a relevant factor in their calculations. Hint: it wasn’t because of a belief in magic or miracles performed by the one Lord Trump and his unholy disciples SeanNY2, OneTrippe, JamesN, RobertHolm, and chopsticks.

  7. Masks matter a lot and are pretty easy to get used to. Wearing pants, not as much.

    If I do as much baseless whining about it as much as Gary does, do I get to go out with my balls hanging free? 🙂

  8. @Gene: I think the 8th comment is a bit too early for the reductio ad Hitlerum. Kinda like Starbucks playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving. Next time maybe wait for a bit of back and forth and then drop the H bomb? Just a suggestion.

  9. A no-masks-for-the-vaccinated approach sounds great in theory – but wouldn’t enforcement be extremely difficult, if not impossible? You’d have to have uniform, tamper-proof vaccination records, something like a driver’s license or passport. And you’d need an army of checkers, to verify people’s vaccination records. I certainly wouldn’t look forward to somebody walking around the airplane or gate area, asking everybody without a mask on for their “papers”. The wrist band concept may work at amusement parks and pools, but in an airport where people are wearing long-sleeve shirts, jackets, sweaters – they’re not so easy to view.

    But if you don’t constantly verify vaccination status, then you are effectively ending the mask mandate for everybody, vaccinated or not. And what happens when somebody non-vaccinated is caught without a mask on?

    I’m no mask warrior, but trying for an “in-between” solution seems impractical. Would love to hear counter-points on how this could work in practice, though.

  10. @GUWonder

    I was aware of the MIT model, and, while it is interesting, it is not anything close to proof of mask efficacy. It is a model! Need I explain why a model is not reality? There are no randomized control trials demonstrating that masks work. This is not to say that they don’t work, just that there is no conclusive evidence that they do. That so many pro-maskers claim that there is incontrovertible proof of mask efficacy only serves to diminish skeptical people’s trust in the health care establishment. My assumption is that anyone who says “follow the science” doesn’t understand science at all.

    Just look at how pathetic the response on the Mayo Clinic’s site is. Do masks work? Yes! (an assertion with no accompanying evidence)

    At least Channel 4 in the UK has a more nuanced explanation:

    Here is an earlier paper on masks and influenza:

    “Our review highlights the limited evidence base supporting the efficacy or effectiveness of face masks to reduce influenza virus transmission.”

    Note that whether influenza is an airborne virus is an issue of debate, as it is for SARS-CoV-2.

    Far more important than masking, if it has any positive effect, is good ventilation. Also, don’t be fat. That can’t repeated too many times. DO. NOT. BE. FAT.

  11. @Gene, I didn’t see the previous comments, so I think you dropped right about the expected time after all 🙂

  12. @Robert Holm says: “Stop calling it a vaccine. It is a non-tested, experimental gene therapy that alters your DNA.”


    1. Correct that it is not a vaccine. Both the NIH and the CDC had to change the definitions of “vaccine” on their websites in the past year. Old definitions are discoverable with Wayback machine.

    2. Incorrect that it’s not tested. They were extensively tested before rollout and have now been tested on millions of people.

    3. Correct that it is a kind of gene therapy (modifying your RNA to make it work a new way).

    4. Incorrect that they alter your DNA, at least as to Pfizer and other mRNA treatments. They modify RNA temporarily, causing it to produce the relevant proteins. The modified RNA and the proteins are then broken down by your cells and ejected from your system.

  13. Ah the left wing shill changes his tune. We never needed (mostly ineffective) masks in the first place. Unsubscribed from your nonsense mate.

  14. I agree that this BS mask torture needs to end forever. This was about the virus for about 6 months or so. Ever since then it has not been about this lab generated virus but about control and keeping us in chains. We need to stand up as one and push back. If one or two people push, the control freaks can keep their party going, but if thousands of people who are tired of being chained to face diapers by a government and an SOB President who bold faced lied about getting rid of them just to get people vaccinated and then when he had the clout for that he slapped the chains back on again, then the tower of tyranny will topple. Biden needs to be impeached immediately and Fauci, the one I truly believed worked with China to created this tyrannical nightmare, should have a face diaper superglued to his skin and shipped off to a deserted island in the hottest regions of the world with no freedom and no relief. Then he’ll suffer for the rest of his life seeing what he did to us.

  15. I have no problem with the science supporting the use of masks. I hate wearing one. But I really hate mask drama. I do not want to fly with the mask mandate because I’m fearful of some form of inflight assault, some endless tirade from an armchair epidemiologist, or flight attendants losing their last remaining molecules of sanity.

    I have battle fatigue from the mask signs, the announcements, then more announcements, then some more announcements. It is a 90-minute flight of mask announcements. Then one lands at a transit city, only to hear, “This is So-and-So, Mayor/Health Commissioner of City Where You are. Changing Planes…”

    Even with noise-cancelling headphones, it’s too much.

    Now add “The Transportation Security Administration has limited items…” (I”m already in a sterile area!) announcements about “reporting unwanted behavior.”

    At every turn, there is a threat: a maskless villain, a mask vigilante, a “child trafficker” because of a mixed-race family, someone with 102 mL of shampoo but firearms going off in the airport, seemingly endless attacks on flight attendants, who have (understandably) turned hostile and skeptical toward everyone.

    Now put that on a “slimline” seat, an “Oasis” bathroom, delays, cancellations, closed concessions, and weather.

    Masks–however scientifically sound–are a breaking point.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with SAS, now that they don’t require masks in the airport nor onboard.

Comments are closed.