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 »

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  1. Absolutely agree. Now it’s time to take off the masks and prove to the anti-vaxxers the value of the vaccine. Scare ’em with the reality and disprove their twisted conspiracy theories.

    By the way, what the anti-vaxxers don’t know (or don’t want to hear) is that Covid is like Dengue: each successive bout is worse than the previous one. So, you get Covid once, and it’s a cold. The 2nd time, it’s like the flu. 3rd time—? Any antibodies after Covid are only in the 3-6 month range, at best. The vaxxes are now showing 9+ months.

  2. Even Faucci is saying the mask mandates are counter productive though wearing a mask has helped with things like the flu. I don’t know about you but I don’t know of anyone who got it this year. This to me just shows the need for vaccine passports. I am flying to Hawaii on Wednesday and still needed a COVID test (it was negative) though I had all my vaccinations. Its annoying to say the least. Though given the shock of the last year understandable. Hawaii still has the best COVID record in the US and its because they’ve been willing to do the hard things. But we’re coming back. Lets encourage vaccinations. I’m not really sure masking prevents that but lets give people incentives to vaccinate. We need you all.

  3. There’s zero proof that the disappearance of flu is due to mask mandates. In fact, there’s plenty to suggest otherwise. Sweden and many other countries didn’t really have people wearing masks and flu disappeared there also. In US, the flu rates dropped to zero well before masking throughout the US became a thing.

    Fauci is peddling unsubstantiated nonsense when he links masking to flu rates.

  4. One of the reasons I don’t bother with a vaccine, is there is no benefit.

    I’m doing a lot of international travel, and, what’s the gain?

    – Still have to get a negative test (why?)
    – airplanes still require masks (why?)
    – silly rules like ‘social distancing’ are still discussed (why?)

    So, yeah, I’m one of those people.
    Not worth the effort to get a vaccine if it provides no benefit.

    Maybe if countries started listening to science, they would not require masks, they would not promote panic, when none is needed.

    Then I’ll consider it. But yeah, I’m exactly the person not bothering, since there is no benefit for doing so.

  5. This is 100% correct. The mask mandate is doing far more harm than good. Sadly this makes it a prototypical government program and may guarantee its longevity.

  6. @George – how old are you, and do you have any comorbidities? If you’re young and healthy the risk to you from Covid-19 is low, but what about spreading the virus to others? Including older people in your own family?

  7. @KimmieA – most of the (rare) cases of reinfection I’ve seen reported are asymptomatic for folks who aren’t immunocompromised, can you point to data on subsequent cases being worse?

  8. @Ben, let’s not talk about Sweden, they showed the world that so much of the non-sense our government pushed through out the pandemic was useless, but yes if you disagree with the mainstream media your voice and posts will be silenced, because we leave in a democracy.. lol

  9. As this COVID farce goes on, I can’t help but think: It’s really sad that Americans are living in outright fear and have to depend on the gov’t to feel safe for a “pandemic” that kills only 99.99% (or was that 99.98%?) of all Americans.

    I said it once and I’ll say it again: If you’re too afraid to travel just because you think your seat neighbor doesn’t have the vaccine – please stay home. Seriously.

    I will NOT take an experimental vaccine under ANY circumstances. You’re not going to pay my bills or compensate me for adverse side effects; in return, stop demanding that everyone get the vaccine or they lose their stimmy (or other so-called govt benefit that should NOT be a benefit in the first place).

    I’m well aware of what COVID can do – but I’m also aware of the stats behind it, too (aka “the science”). LEAVE ME ALONE.

  10. Are Mask Mandates Extending The Pandemic?

    Absolutely, 100%. It almost seems intentional.

    “Follow the science” has morphed into “Follow this moving goalpost”

  11. @kimmieA – “Absolutely agree. Now it’s time to take off the masks and prove to the anti-vaxxers the value of the vaccine. Scare ’em with the reality and disprove their twisted conspiracy theories.”

    The problem with the current B1den administration’s stance on COVID is that they refuse to set a bar that is reachable (like getting 70% vaccination, etc.). Oh geez – there might be a chance 70% of Americans may never get an EXPERIMENTAL vaccine. You don’t say..

    So, combine with this fact that Fauci keeps moving the goal posts every time a COVID statistic contradicts what he says or thinks will happen equals a public that doesn’t trust the government.

    “Scare ’em with the reality and disprove their twisted conspiracy theories” –> You obviously haven’t been paying attention to the fact the states that didn’t follow Fauci’s or Biden’s recommendations are doing just fine.

    Hmm.. how’d that “super-spreader” event go in the Miami beaches the past few weeks? Oh yea – that’s right. You forgot about it, too, because it was a non-event. **yawn**

  12. Good points. Even from NBC which is an echo chamber of being pro-mask. I’ve been vaccinated. I had the flu shot last year and still got the flu. I had covid for over a month and it is no joke. I’m ready for no masks. Requiring re-entry tests is even more insane. So for many international trips a person has to be vaccinated, get tested before or on arrival (or both), and then again before they return. Many of the customer and border people at airports don’t even bother to look at the tests.

  13. @George while I disagree with you on whether there now is a benefit to being vaccinated (if one is young and healthy), I acknowledge that governments have done nothing much to make such a benefit clear. Get rid of mask mandates for the vaccinated. Limit access to normal activity for those who are not. I was calling for a vaccine incentive as a requirement for getting the stimulus checks long ago. As a vaccinated person I am sick and tired of putting up with restrictions because some people don’t want to get vaccinated. By mid- to late-April everyone in the U.S. who wanted to get a shot could start getting them. I say that by mid-June end all restrictions on the vaccinated, but keep them for the unvaccinated.

    A few countries do admit travelers who are vaccinated without a PCR test. The standard should become either/or, including for return or admission to the U.S.. Then a one (or two) time jab will become more convenient than always needing to get a test, including when going to multiple countries on the same trip. The E.U. will be opening up to international visitors soon. I hope they let the vaccinated in without further hassle, but require tests and quarantines for the unvaccinated.

  14. @ George — I’m pretty sure you already have COVID brain. Only an imbecile would say that a 95% effective vaccine “has no benefit”.

  15. KimmieA brings up an interesting notion that most of those not getting vaccinated are anti-vaxxers with twisted conspiracy theories. That may play to the opinions of those in the party of the jackass, but down here in Florida and in many states the reality is that lack of vaccination is higher in minority populations. Not sure that minority populations are anti-vaxxers so much as anti-identifiers. Vaccinations in many states (California is a notable exception) require identification and folks taught to think requiring identification to vote is racist might tell you the same about requiring identification to vaccinate. There are many reasons to want to shield or smudge identity – warrants, violation of orders to pay child support, illegal entry into the country and etc. This is why the census makes great effort to find search out and find the habitually undercounted who are hiding in the herd.

    Whether the mask mandate is no longer useful or is counterproductive and extending the pandemic in the United States is rather questionable. As The Global Times and others have reported, the US virologist, Dr. Rajendra Kapila, was fully vaccinated with Pfizer yet died from COVID 19 when subsequently visiting India. Those shots in your arm undeniably do not make you invincible to the virus, they just shift your risk a certain percentage which may vary by each COVID variant. New mutations out there are slowly learning to make an end-run around current vaccines and this is why there is already talk of COVID booster shots becoming necessary, like like annual flu vaccines. Your current vaccination certainly has a short shelf life measured more likely in months rather than years. Personally I continue to wear masks because there are way more unvaccinated than vaccinated people out the world and second guessing where this virus is headed is like trying to predict the path of falling Chinese missile debris.

  16. It is fascinating to see the difference between the informed discussion in the comments on your page and the idiotic one-liner comments you get on Twitter.

  17. The notion that cloth masks have done anything is laughable; they are nowhere near comparable to the surgical masks that are used in medical settings. And they are no more helpful for flu even if there will be people that wear them seasonally.
    The flu was virtually eradicated because 1. the human/animal interactions in Asia – where a number of respiratory diseases are created – was interrupted last year by their lockdowns and 2. the US heavily vaccinated against flu last summer because medical professionals tried to eliminate the possibility of a flu and covid combination overwhelming the health care system. The percentage of flu-vaccinated people that got covid was in the single digit percentages which says there might have been some cross-immunity to covid.
    supposedly the CDC is saying they will revisit indoor mask guidelines but the public has already moved to do what they know is best; vaccinated people don’t need to wear useless masks.

    Eat and sleep well, take vitamins, exercise and deal w/ any health issues including obesity if you want to improve chances of an encounter with a potential virus.

  18. While I personally could care less whether anyone wears a mask or not – nor whether they get vaccinated – the reality is that masks probably increase confidence among more people when making their travel decisions than removing the mandate does in getting some people to fly.

    I mean seriously, someone who is refusing to get vaccinated or travel because they have to wear a mask seems much more about political ideology than anything else.

  19. I can only speak for myself. I had no choice but to travel extensively the past year. In fact, just completing now a four month period of living in hotels around the country. Not for fun, to jumpstart my business again. I normally travel maybe half that amount and pre covid I would always get two nasty colds a year. Usually one a sinus infection. This year, nothing. Not even a sniffle. I have determined it’s for two reasons: I sanitize and wash hands religiously now and I wear a mask. Who knows, maybe there were just less cold virus’ circulating and that’s why, but wearing a mask is not a big deal, I’m quite used to it, and washing my hands more is a good practice all the time. I have no intention of stopping either, especially wearing masks in crowded indoor areas with poor ventilation. I have been fully vaccinated since March and have no intention of removing my mask in airports, hotels etc, now or in the future. I’m sold.

  20. @Gene, that’s because you bought the 95% effective malarkey. The experimental gene therapies, they’re not vaccines, are not 95% effective and the trials done by Pfizer prove that to the the case. People are simply confusing absolute risk with relative risk.

  21. @stuart is it the mask or is it that indoor spaces are much less crowded

    Gary – I’m with you time to get on with it no more masks once X% are vaccinated

  22. @ James N — You apparently have an inability to read scientific papers. Don’t feel bad, the average American can’t either.

  23. Good luck to the unvaccinated! If someone wearing a mask triggers you, then what can one say?

  24. @ John L
    110% agree. Look m at WA state, the governor is NOT FOLLOWING THE SCIENCE, He is following his own political agenda.
    With a survival rate of 99.9% the government has stepped over it’s boundary. And also where is the flu this year??? Those so called covid tests can not distinguish the difference in the flu and covid because they are the same virous.
    This covid B.S is nothing but a scare tactic that the government is using to control.

  25. @Gene…wrong again. Your comment is weak and doesn’t, in any way, address the point I made. You simply, like the average American, don’t understand what I referenced in my original post. Don’t feel bad.

  26. @Gene
    Please list the geographic origin of global respiratory viruses In the past 20 years

  27. Some people claim a 99.9% survival rate. Wrong. It’s not that high. In addition, there’s a 15-20% brain fog rate. That is true even with young people.

    Masks that most people wear are minimally effective. Surgical masks are batter, N95 masks superior. I wear N95 except low risk situations where I wear a surgical masks. That what people should be doing.

    Vaccines are like a gun and good masks like a bulletproof jacket, cloth masks like a small pocket metal Bible in your shirt pocket. Pick your protection.

  28. @Gary –The Lancet, for a start. My concern for those who have had exposure to one Covid strain having had ‘natural’ exposure to another variant down the road. But the mRNA vaccines seem to be holding their own in that area. There are citations I will find and email you.

    Dengue has 4 strains, and having had one strain puts you at higher risk for severe complications with strain two, etc.

  29. @ Carolyn — You provide a great example of someone who cannot read scientific literature. COVID and flu are absolutely not the same virus.

  30. 2,000,000 miles on United and Delta. Have not flown in 16 months. Would love to. Will not subject myself to Karen on board. Call me names. Sorry. Stop the mandatory mask

  31. Masks are not extending the pandemic. People refusing to get vaccinated are extending the pandemic. You would think the fact that the vaccine prevents hospitalization or death from covid would be enough incentive for people to get it. It really isn’t a complicated thing to understand except if you are a travel blogger I guess.

  32. @KimmieA

    what you don’t know is that the vaccines cause the worst VOC – Variants of Concern. UK, South Africa, Brazil, and USA – home of only 4 VOC…also main/primary/only places where Pfizer, Moderna, J&J (75% of participants), and Oxford/AZ tested.

    virus evolution / adaptation.

    Oh…and vaccines increase cases/deaths. India…few problems until vaccinating began. Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Seychelles, Cape Verde, Uruguay…even UK, Israel had notable spikes.

    See: Twitter – Miss Conceptions

    seasonality rules though. we’ll see in several months in most of Northern Hemisphere.

  33. @Greg. Well, if you want to use me as a case study, I have been for months in California, Texas, Vegas, Arizona and Florida. Flights have been packed. Everywhere I have been is crowded. Vegas and Florida have been complete zoos. So, to answer your question, I would say that lack of crowds has not been my saving grace, lol. Still as I said, I can’t tell you the reason for sure. I will though continue to wear a mask through the next year to see if my ability to avoid colds and sinus infections continues.

  34. Mask use has a place still in this pandemic since we have well over a hundred million people who aren’t vaccinated at all against Covid-19. Mask use drives down the amount of virus getting into the air out of the nose and throats and how likely and badly someone may get hit by the virus circulating in nearby air. Mask use is a risk mitigation measure backed up by tons of scientific evidence, not that it matters to the clueless ideologues.

    The longer and more difficult it becomes to convince the unvaccinated in the US to put on their big boy and big girl pants and get vaccinated, the more likely the country ends up with mandated or recommended mask use dragging along for longer and maybe even cycling around more often.


    About Sweden,

    The flu didn’t disappear in the country despite or because of a lack of mask use. The country wasn’t even focused on testing for the flu. And the relative lack of mask use (and the government ideologues against mask use in Sweden) is a factor in why the pandemic remains so much worse in Sweden than it has been in all of its neighboring countries.

    The social distancing behavior and reduced cross-border travel for Swedes meant there was less flu going around the country and there were fewer imported flu variant injections going around than usual. And there was some mask use and way more staying at home than usual in the country for people with symptoms of respiratory system infections. The flu is less contagious than the virus that causes Covid-19.

  35. Too many responses to read them all in detail but a couple of comments.

    In some locations, wearing a mask is illegal except under certain circumstances like Governor’s executive order so when those E.O’s expire, technically you can’t wear a mask for no reason.

    The requirements to mask, stay 6′ apart, limited seating indoors whether its an eating establishment, theatre, store etc post vax, It clearly causes people to just say “F” it to a vaccine that is arguably experimental.

    I’ve stopped flying, I don’t miss it, I don’t want to deal with the masks, the mask nazi’s [I mean the ones that aren’t flight attendants] etc.

    Question, how do you remove mask mandates if you don’t know if that person has been vaccinated? I can’t imagine that you have to show your “passport”. Someone is going to fight that in court and win with the HIPPA laws. It will be even more strict in the EU than in the US. I have no intent of flashing my vax passport. I don’t flash my inoculation records, why should I flash this?

  36. Liz didn’t go to school in the US? There is a long history in the US of schools asking about vaccination records. There is a long history in the US about employers asking about vaccination records.

    Liz certainly doesn’t seem to understand what HIPPA is, so we can rule out law school.

  37. Mask wearing is not extending the pandemic. Anti-vaxxers are extending the pandemic. More than likely, Covid will become endemic, with constant ebb and flow, and more variants. Get used to it, this is never going to end.

  38. I think this is a good example of ‘humans are complex and you can’t predict how they will respond to broad based rules’.

    For example, the Lulling Effect whereby government regulations cause complacency and increase the harm they were designed to reduce:

    “since there is some evidence that individuals tend to set very small probabilities equal to zero, the safety-enhancing properties of caps may reduce the risk so much that parents ignore the poisoning risk … safety precautions will decline, perhaps to so great an extent that overall safety is reduced.”

    “the 47 percent unexplained shift in analgesic poisonings suggests that the impact of the regulation on balance was counterproductive, leading to 3,500 additional poisonings of children under age 5 annually from analgesics.”

    Viscusi, W. Kip. “The Lulling Effect: The Impact of Child-Resistant Packaging on Aspirin and Analgesic Ingestions.” The American Economic Review, vol. 74, no. 2, 1984, p. 325 and p. 327.

  39. GU
    So do you provide your medical history when you go to a restaurant? Movie Theatre? Food Store? Car Dealership? attend a sporting event? Gym? Home Depot? Wal-Mart? the list goes on…

    I don’t claim to be a HIPPA expert but when I can’t get my 18+ year old child’s medical info without a release do you think, any random Joe at TSA, the DL counter, Wal-Mart Greeter, Hostess at a restaurant is going to be allowed to see it. I’m saying this after someone, and someone will, fights this in court.

  40. @GUWonder, I went to law school and I’m also pretty adept at Googling. The question Liz is asking is a very good one, though the complication (as with many things) arises more from the ADA than HIPAA. One example:

    “I think most schools would steer clear of testing the legal limits in terms of requiring [a response],” [professor of law and health management and policy at Drexel University Rovert] Field said, adding that districts might instead administer a survey where teachers can respond that they have been vaccinated, they have not, or they prefer not to answer. ”

    If the schools are “steering clear of testing the legal limits” of requiring a response regarding vaccination status, then Liz is making a very good point that this whole area is going to be very complicated.

    Oh, and Robert Field went to law school. In the US.

  41. Mind you, all this hoop-jumping for something that 99.5+% of people fully recover from.

    And let’s pretend that somehow I am a carrier … but not everyone I’m in contact with will get it, if anyone (Sorry, I don’t believe casual contact for 2 minutes a a grocery store checkout, etc. will give anyone anything)
    If someone has a poor immune system or doesn’t take care of themselves and is not healthy (overweight, no exercise, does drugs, smokes cigarettes, etc.) I shouldn’t have to be responsible because someone can’t figure out how to stop smoking or however they create their own state of unhealthiness.

    Not popular opinions, I’m sure, but it’s the truth.

  42. You’re massively overthinking this. The long-established scientific consensus held that public masking was not effective against respiratory viruses. That’s why, initially, the Surgeon General and Fauci told us not to wear masks. And then — without scientific evidence — they changed the recommendation so we could all “do something” and be aware of Covid risk.. But the results are the same: we now have preposterously extensive data showing masks have zero impact on Covid. Just like the science said we would. But since there was so much effort made by politicians and public health officials to “sell” masks, they refuse to discuss this evidence or change their recommendations. They want masks to quietly fade away with vaccinations and save face. Of course, the sooner we de-mask the better off we as a civilization will be. It’s hard to step away from hysteria — which is what de-masking is — but we need to.

  43. @chopsticks says: “They want masks to quietly fade away with vaccinations and save face.”

    Literally 🙂

  44. @ chopsticks — Nice, inaccurate revisionist history. Reminds me of another lie that a certain orange blob was re-elected president because people love him so much. You are being lied to and are spreading lies.

  45. @ chopsticks. Gene is wrong.
    “Sometimes people don’t want to hear (read) the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” Friedrich Nietzsche

  46. Stop calling it a vaccine. It is a non-tested, experimental gene therapy that alters your DNA. If you take the vaccine you are now a GMO. If you want the vaccine, get it. If you want to where a mask, where one. But leave me alone – you know “my body my choice” – oops that was already used as excuse to commit murder (actually killing someone else) not just an insignificant chance of giving someone an insignificant virus in which death rates are manipulated to scare the masses. Go find out the truth – hint if you are looking for the truth on face book, twitter and the main stream media, bah, bah! LOL

  47. In addition to any additional safety to me (I had COVID in October and didn’t die) being vaccinated let’s me get on an airplane to Iceland in 4 weeks and Europe in the fall. I care a lot about travel and my two Moderna shots have opened that up for me.

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