The Biden administration has extended the federal transportation mask mandate through September 13. This covers air travel as well as trains, rideshares, and buses. It was set to expire May 11.
There was never any question this was going to happen,
- Airlines and unions were lobbying for it, rather than against it
- The end of the mask mandate will be a symbolic way for the President to declare victory against the pandemic, which we’re not yet in a place for.
Mask rules made a lot of sense when airlines instituted them. I argued for masks when airlines were still prohibiting employees from wearing them. And I’ve argued that people should have been wearing better quality masks throughout the pandemic, and learning to wear them properly (there are simple YouTube videos!).
When airlines began requiring masks that gave customers confidence to fly. They may have found the requirement annoying to comply with, but overall knowing that everyone else would be wearing a mask made customers more comfortable.
Now that every adult in the U.S. who wants a vaccine can get one there’s no longer a reason to require them.
- The mRNA vaccines are incredibly effective at protecting people from infection, sickness, and negative outcomes. Most who have been vaccinated have little to fear.
- Those who haven’t been vaccinated are making that choice and shouldn’t be imposing a cost on others. Even without a mandate, passengers can still wear masks.
What is it Milton Friedman used to say, that nothing is as permanent as a temporary government program?
There are a very limited number of people for whom vaccines may not be indicated or may be less effective. The argument being made for the mandate, though, isn’t to protect those people so they can fly worry-free.
Children can’t yet get vaccinated but children are at statistically lower risk than vaccinated older Americans anyway. For young kids Covid-19 is less of a risk than many of the things we accepted already as background, pre-pandemic. And most evidence suggests they’re less likely to spread the virus as well. (Mask requirements for two year olds was always silly, Delta’s policy to exempt young children made far more sense before it was outlawed.)
The world continues to battle Covid-19, and as long as there are so many people with the virus there are hosts within which it can mutate. That presents a risk, even an outside risk of vaccine escape. If such variants develop and become dominant mask mandates can be re-imposed until booster vaccines for them are ready.
The mask mandate though should sunset, based on science of the virus that is actually circulating, availability of vaccines in the United States, and date on their effectiveness – rather than being extended based on hypotheticals.
We’ll see an end to the mandate eventually. It’s unclear whether that will happen in September, though it will happen for certain when the President declares victory over Covid-19 because the CDC rules that TSA mandates are based on are set up that way – and because it will be a symbolic win for the President to do so. We’ll certainly see the mandate lifted before the 2022 midterm elections.
Nonetheless during flu season I’ll almost certainly wear a mask myself, now that it’s socially acceptable to do so, because I really hate the inconvenience of getting sick.