I’ve argued for a year that the time to expect mask mandates to be lifted for planes would be before the mid term elections. It’s not case counts or hospitalization that will drive an end to pandemic rules, as much as political necessity.
That’s because rules tend to stay in place longer than they’re needed when left up to government bureaucracies. Right now we’re just past the peak of the Omicron wave of the pandemic, and the administration has just started sending out Covid tests two years into Covid. The safety narrative is something institutions still need to follow if they’re national, or in many Blue States, rather than located in Red States.
But the upcoming elections will be focal. With control of both houses of Congress up for grabs, the party currently in power needs to declare victory over the virus. And there are symbols of that victory.
The current transportation mask mandate runs through March 18, 2022. It may well be extended, even though we’ll likely be past the current wave. Culturally, blue states may expect it. Sara Nelson will lobby for it.
Maska have some benefit, even in the context of HEPA air filtration and downward air flow that make planes safer environments than restaurants and bars. If you want that benefit wear a good mask! A cloth mask that satisfies the requirement may be more comfy but offers relatively little protection (to you, or from you).
When the requirement will end, though, is the question.
- Over the summer Some administration insiders were saying it could be permanent
- In December Dr. Fauci suggested masks on planes should be here forever
- However betting markets disagree.
With the U.K., Denmark, and the Netherlands lifting Covid-19 restrictions these odds seem low to me. Currently betting markets favor a Republican takeover of the House and the Senate (even though Republicans have to defend far more seats in the Senate).
The facts on the ground with the pandemic should favor an end to mandates, even though there’s a scenario where that isn’t true.
- booster shots continue to work well against Omicron, and we may have variant-specific or multivariant boosters by summer
- much greater supply of Paxlovid available to keep people with symptomatic Covid out of the hospital
- substantial background immunity from prior infection as a result of successive waves of the virus
Betting markets currently have the U.S. staying over 100,000 daily cases through March, making an end to the mandate on March 18 seem unlikely.
However being in a position where the mandates are hard to justify shortly after that, and where it’s possible for government leaders to claim victory, should mean that if the mandate is extended again that the next time is the last time – changing the narrative as November midterms approach.
And since American Airlines has said they’d keep alcohol out of coach until the mask mandate is lifted, we’ll all be able to raise a glass when this happens.