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.
"We should be lifting the mask ordinances outside in a wholesale fashion, I think we should be lifting them in indoor settings as well in many states," says @ScottGottliebMD. "We've hit our own goal–we just are reluctant to relax the measures now." pic.twitter.com/BHoGLi4B25
— Squawk Box (@SquawkCNBC) May 10, 2021
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.