The federal Transportation Mask Mandate – which covers air, rail, and bus travel – was set to expire March 18th and extended to April 18th. Most people in the airline industry expected it to lapse. I suggested earlier this week that expiring it now would be tough for the Biden administration.
The CDC will extend the mask mandate by two weeks. The goal is to “monitor for any observable increase in severe virus outcomes as cases rise in parts of the country..out of abundance of caution.”
While CDC mask guidance suggests nearly the entire country doesn’t need to wear masks indoors, the only real remaining mask mandates are flying (and other transportation) and in some backward jurisdictions for 2-4 year olds in preschools.
A month ago I wrote that the one thing that could throw a monkey wrench in this plan was an expected uptick in cases by the B.A.2 variant. And that started happening days ago.
Still, recent B.A.1 infection is protective against B.A.2 and vaccination continues to protect against bad outcomes from B.A.2. Hospitalizations and ICU admittances are at their lowest levels since the start of the pandemic.
Even Eric Topol isn’t especially concerned.
There are counties in upstate NY, Colorado, Texas and Alaska with 70-130 new cases/100K —very high levels that reflect this variant's hyper-infectious potential /2 pic.twitter.com/XFeAnhmrha
— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) April 10, 2022
We are no longer in a place where public mandates are needed. And doing it just on planes gets us virtually nothing in any case. We’re simply better able to address the current virus than at any point in the pandemic.
- There’s tremendous background protection from vaccines, boosters, and prior infection.
- B.A.2 spreads so quickly that masks that meet the regulatory requirement (like cloth masks) probably don’t do much anyway. Masking was important in 2020 both to delay infection (until we had vaccines and treatments) and delay hospitalizations (to preserve capacity) – not so much right now
- Treatments are available from Paxlovid to Fluvoxamine to Peginterferon Lambda (TOGETHER 3 TRIAL)
Now is the time to wear a good mask properly if you’re concerned – if you’re immunocompromised, elderly, or potentially if you have relevant comorbidities. It’s not the time to impose broad public mandates. We have tools we didn’t have earlier in the pandemic, and enough background immunity from the Omicron wave that we aren’t likely to put pressure on hospitals now.
It is possible of course that we could see a new variant of consequence that is fast-spreading (like Omicron), more virulent (like Delta), and that escapes prior immunity. That would be a huge concern and reason to re-address public health policy from good-quality masks, to variant-specific and pan-coronavirus vaccines, to ramped up treatments.