The 7 day moving average of confirmed Covid-19 cases is down over 96% from peak. Hospitalizations are at their lowest level since the start of the pandemic. We have vaccines and boosters and monoclonal antibodies and small molecule inhibitors – ways to prevent severe disease and to treat it – tools we were only beginning to have when restrictions were put in place.
Covid ICU hospitalizations are already at the US pandemic low. With another decline of 700 hospitalizations today, and accounting for a higher proportion of "with" Covid, we are likely at or approaching the lowest number of severe Covid in the US since this all started 👍 pic.twitter.com/MEqQuQ2TDO
— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) March 22, 2022
Against this backdrop the CEOs of Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, and United – along with the heads of FedEx, UPS, and Atlas Air – have written to President Biden telling him enough is enough.
The letter begins by flattering the Administration. After all, U.S. airlines are wards of the state after receiving $79 billion in subsidies during the pandemic. They note that they required masks before the government did – and yet don’t point out that meant the federal mask requirement did nothing to change policy – instead suggesting administration policy was somehow effective against Covid-19).
But then they go on to say that it’s time to list mask requirements and testing rules for entering the U.S.
Now is the time for the Administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions – including the international predeparture testing requirement and the federal mask
mandate – that are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological
On testing they point out that Canada, the U.K., and E.U. all dropped testing rules and that testing didn’t keep out variants. On masks they point out that the CDC says 99% of the country no longer needs to mask indoors.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian adds,
Considering the improved public health metrics in the U.S. and medical advancements to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID-19, the federal mask mandate and pre-departure testing no longer fits with the current environment.
This is clearly correct. Anyone who wishes can travel with a well-fitted N95 mask. The federal government even arranged to offer these masks for free.
No one has been able to articulate any value in continued testing as a requirement for travel at this point. However there’s some worry that even though rules aren’t needed at today’s level of virus transmission and hospitalization there could be future need for rules and therefore some are reluctant to remove them.
The risk story is that the B.A.2 variant might evade immunity from prior infection among the unvaccinated and lead to spikes in cases and – to a lesser extent – hospitalizations. Surely, though, we’re not imposing restrictions on everyone to protect those unwilling to be vaccinated? And young children for whom no vaccine has yet been approved face less risk from the virus than vaccinated adults.
Ultimately advocates of continued restriction worry that it’ll be ‘hard to re-impose rules once lifted’ rather than worrying that they look stupid arguing for restrictions when restrictions aren’t needed. Or they worry that policymakers would be too slow to react in re-imposing restrictions if they were necessary.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it’s underspecified and supports restrictions forever but doesn’t admit it. Anyone advocating continued restrictions has the burden to lay out the off ramp. Under what specific conditions and metrics would they actually support an end to emergency pandemic rules?
[…] CEOs of major U.S. airlines have all asked for the mask mandate to be lifted along with testing requirements to fly to the U.S. The Senate has voted to end the mask mandate but […]