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The federal transportation mask mandate has been suspended. Voluntary mask wearing varies by region of the country. Flying out of Austin and New Orleans this week perhaps 5% of passengers were wearing masks, perhaps a little bit more but definitely less than 10%.
What I didn’t understand was that a majority of people who were wearing masks were wearing either cloth or medical masks. I understand why people don’t wear masks. And I understand why people choose to wear them when they are no longer required – to protect themselves – but I do not understand the choice to wear a cloth mask, which doesn’t provide that protection.
Covid-19 cases were already on the rise in the U.S. before the mask mandate was dropped. There will be some people who (quite unfairly) blame he current run up in cases on the end of the mask mandate, despite masks not being required in places that are more conducive to spread, where people spend more of their time, like restaurants and bars.
The seven day moving average of cases is up about a third in a week, and the moving average understates the current level prevalence on the way up (just as it overstates it on the way down). It’s not yet clear how bad it’s going to get, since we’re still very early in this. The concern is that the B4 and B5 variants could evade immunity from B1, so the massive recent wave of infection wouldn’t fully stop another wave.
If COVID rising again in Gauteng, South Africa; it’s likely driven in part by emergence of B4, B5 omicron variants
Experimental evidence indicates vaccine induced antibodies don’t neutralize B4, B5 as well as B1, B2 and immunity from prior B1 infection may not be as protective https://t.co/vbDYYSD1Ve
— Scott Gottlieb, MD (@ScottGottliebMD) April 22, 2022
Those who are critical of the mask mandate’s end point out that masks protect the people around you from you, if you’re infected, and the infectious period of Covid-19 prior to showing symptoms. Cloth masks didn’t help with this. Medical masks likely do little against current variants. But better masks do help.
If you’re concerned about your risk from being around unmasked people, bear in mind that you can protect yourself and in some cases protect yourself better now that the mask mandate has ended.
- You can wear an N95 or even P100 mask
- And now that masks aren’t required you can wear one with a valve for your breathing comfort.
Valves were banned because they didn’t protect others from you. But now that there’s no mask rules anymore, you can wear a mask with a valve if you wish. And if you’re wearing a P100 mask properly you’re highly unlikely to get anything from fellow passengers. P100s have exhalation valves, but filter at least 99.8% of particles. Here’s one from Amazon that delivers same-day where I am. And here’s a full face respirator, no need for separate eye googles for total protection.
If you’re young, healthy, and are up to date on your vaccinations, your current risk from Covid-19 is likely quite low.
If you’re healthy and up-to-date with your vaccination, that’s a reasonable approach. Covid poses a relatively low risk of severe illness to you, especially compared with other daily risks we willingly accept. 7/
— Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrTomFrieden) April 22, 2022
However if you face elevated risk now is the time to protect yourself from others on planes, since they may not be protecting you with their masks. And ironically you are better able to do so now that neither the government nor airlines are mandating masks.
Saying that masks are a choice now isn’t just a way of saying you have the choice not to wear one. You have the choice to protect yourself as well. There are plenty of people that will find wearing a mask enough of an inconvenience that it makes sense not to wear one, relative to their low risk from Covid-19. There are also people who will probably make this calculation incorrectly. There are many things about personal risk assessments people engage in that I do not understand, for instance we have what’s largely a cure to Covid 19 (!) in the form of Paxlovid yet people testing positive are for the most part choosing not to take it.