Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg was challenged on the contradiction and argued that mask mandates should remain on planes even though they aren’t needed for vaccinated individuals in restaurants, bars and gyms because,
- “Well, some of the differences have to do with the physical space.” But isn’t that an argument that planes aren’t safer environments due to HEPA air filtration and downward air flow, and as a public health matter shouldn’t he be mandating social distancing on board? In any case, even without blocked middle seats bars are now maskless and packed with people closer together than planes are, so this is nonsense.
- “Some of them have to do with it being a workplace where in some of these transit and travel situations people don’t have a choice,” In Buttigieg’s view it’s important to protect flight attendants but not restaurant workers. But what are we protecting them from since they have the opportunity to be vaccinated?
- “[I]t’s also a matter of respect.” It’s important to respect flight attendants but not restaurant workers, apparently. “Respect” may be desirable, though it’s a matter of social norm and custom and views on respect will differ. Should government be in the business of mandating respect rather than simply mandating civility – you can’t assault someone but do you have to respect them or risk government fines?
Is something even a matter of respect, if it’s mandated by law? Isn’t respect something that has to be freely offered? If someone is wearing a mask because it’s required, to avoid penalties, aren’t they doing it for a reason other than respect?
Buttigieg was also challenged on “an uptick in unruly passengers who are bucking mask mandates on planes” and of course this is not surprising, since it’s something I predicted more than six months ago. Oddly American and Southwest seem to be blaming alcohol for passenger behavior even though economy passengers haven’t had access to alcohol on their planes. For his part, American’s CEO Doug Parker has blamed the different mix of passengers that have been flying his airline as well.
Back in November I explained that we were going to see more conflict on planes over masks as people gained immunity from vaccination and natural infection yet were still required to wear masks. The Director of the CDC said vaccinated people neither get nor spread the virus, and anyone who wants a vaccine in the U.S. 12 and older can get one (and being younger than that generally puts you at less risk than a vaccinated older American). There’s no longer a reason to wear masks on planes, to protect yourself if you’ve been vaccinated or to protect others – and anyone who chooses not to be vaccinated at this point assumes that risk, which – given low virus prevalence on the U.S. now – isn’t significant in most circumstances.
We could see a resurgence in the virus come fall and winter, and if that happens mask mandates could well make sense (but only if we mandate decent masks, used correctly and not cloth masks). In the meantime the lack of flexibility afforded to the vaccinated is one thing that may be holding back vaccination – the mask mandate could be what holds down vaccination and extends the pandemic in the U.S.