The federal transportation mask mandate should have been lifted, or allowed to expire March 18. However it was extended – for just one month. And the broad expectation is that it will end in mid-April, as part of the administration declaring victory on Covid-19. There’s a strong political reason to do so before the mid-term elections. And it makes good sense, too.
- Vaccines and boosters are available, and hold up against bad outcomes from Covid-19
- The current dominant variant of the virus is generally less severe
- And spreads more quickly, masks that meet the regulatory requirement (like cloth masks) probably don’t do much anyway. Masking was important in 2020, not so much right now
- Plus treatments are available from Paxlovid to Fluvoxamine to Peginterferon Lambda (TOGETHER 3 TRIAL)
There’s just one thing that could lead the air travel mask mandate to be extended – a new wave of Covid infections: the U.S. could be behind Europe, much of which is seeing an increase in cases again.
B.A.2 is more infectious than the original strain of Omicron, perhaps 25% more. It is on its way towards dominance in the U.S. but doesn’t appear more serious. The U.S. has two likely paths,
- The Omicron wave was sufficiently infectious here that we don’t see another surge, just a slowdown in decline
- Another surge occurs but not likely at levels experienced during Omicron. Germany is peaking at its mid-February highs, but had really only just begun to decline.
Since immunity from prior infection and vaccination seem to be as effective against B.A.2 as B.A.1. and most Americans have substantial protection at this point it doesn’t seem likely that we see another surge from current variants, but the possibility of one is the reason the only real remaining pandemic restrictions in the U.S. would continue to last.
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… which still seem likely to be effective.