U.S. Government Is Distributing 100 Million Masks To Travelers

The U.S. government recommended against wearing masks, all the while working to address a massive shortage of masks in hospitals. Masks either protect against the virus or they don’t, right?

Sure, there’s more risk of aerosolized spread in hospital environments with lots of coronavirus patients and where patients may be getting intubated. But the government’s stance on masks let the government get out ahead of consumers in purchasing them. A huge stockpile of N95 masks went to the TSA.

We know now, or at least the latest science leads us to believe, that masks really can make a difference controlling spread of SARS-CoV-2. For instance,

  • British researchers recently found that everyone wearing 50% effective masks is enough to slow the spread of the virus (homemade masks are probably more than 50% effective).

  • A German study found masks reduce the growth rate of infections by 40%.

  • And use of quality masks by half the population does the same thing. Wearing masks also encourages social distancing based on a study out of Italy – seeing the masks reminds us to stay away.

Today the Department of Transportation announced they’re distributing 100 million cloth masks “to the aviation, transit, and passenger rail transportation sectors for passenger use.”

  • 86.8 million coverings to airports
  • 9.6 million to 458 different local transit agencies and to Amtrak

The FAA and TSA can’t legally mandate mask wearing. Airlines are mandating them, but not enforcing the mandate. Many airlines are handing out masks for free already.

According to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao free masks for travelers “will help boost public confidence” in travel. The masks were purchased by FEMA and will be shipped via the U.S. Postal Service, so that every agency gets their piece of the business.

Is the problem we face a lack of below-hospital grade masks? Or that people just forget, and don’t take airlines up on their offers of free masks? Will federal government free mask programs be what triggers widespread adoption in the U.S.?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Masks and also (primarily) 14 day quarantines are the latest “must have” fashion accessories for politicians around the world as their sheep demand security, even false sense of that security..
    Very sad
    Ps disclosure: not a trump supporter, not conservative

  2. @Doug, hope you do not think spikes in new cases in nearly half of the states is related to fashion either.

    If you are suggesting we (sheep) should not believe what top epidemiologists strongly recommend, then it sounds like a wolf is talking.

    Not @Doug, somehow, we manage to be at war with facts in the U.S. Let’s go and show how free we are by displaying military style weapons on the steps of state capitols. God and guns will protect us… Unbelievable.

  3. Am I the only human being in the world that still has an immune system????????

    What happened to everyone else’s??? Do you have to turn yours in to be allowed on facebook or twitter these days?

    Gooooood grief.

  4. Being a COVID truther internet troll is an easy gig. It’s ignorance dressed up as Junior Varsity virology.

  5. @jaymar
    You got it wrong
    I am not a truther or a denier of the virus, I know it exists and I don’t think it was engineered by the chinese version of batman
    What I’m saying is that everybody needs to asses their risk
    If you want to stay in your basement for the rest of your life it’s fine, you can get everything you need delivered and never venture out, if that is the life you want but usually are those who do that, that are telling others to stay home as well
    I will not travel to india or bolivia now, as I asses my risk
    Not sure I will ever go to india or africa as I also git kidney stones while travelling so I want to be where hospitals are good
    That said, I would fly anywhere in europe or usa now, the air in the plane is probably cleaner than the one in your basement but I dont fancy a quarantine so I will wait a few more weeks to fly to slovenia and israel, both places I need to go to
    The legacy of this virus will be fear and many sanitation stations, all touchless, as well as a minimum wage employee who will take your temperature with a 5.99 digital piece from china that is never accurate, but folks will feel secure
    Eventually fear will subside for most and logic will prevail, all while still perhaps living with a virus around

  6. The mask data is actually sketchy, as both the CDC and the WHO keep changing their minds (BECAUSE of the sketchy data). That said, it seems better safe than sorry on airplanes right now as we await better science. I do wonder about mask wearing “in the great outdoors” though, like parks. There is zero science to support this, but there’s also nobody in authority telling people not to do it.

  7. The problem is blowhards who don’t think they need to wear a mask. It has nothing to do with availability. Masks are readily available nowadays. The science has been showing that masks are quite effective. The anti-maskers simply don’t care about others. The virus is on the rise in 19 states in large part due to covidiots who seem incapable of wearing a mask and socially distancing. There should be a facemask rule from the federal government for airplanes and it should be enforced. Totally absurd to have a rule that is not enforced.

  8. The science leads us to believe? No. The science tells us that masks are the way forward for a while. Talk about pandering to the Trumpettes

  9. The only sheep here are Trumpettes like @Doug who will blindly follow their Dear Leader. Of course, not that everyone entering the WH needs to be tested (and weraing a mask IIRC) I wonder why ickle Dougii doesnt call out his Dear Leader.
    Oh right, he doesnt have the gumption to do so

  10. @George I saw the map, you can’t get into Africa. Only Libya and Chad. Have you been there yet?
    Portugal is ok. Good luck.

  11. My husband & I (69 & 70) had to fly to NYC last week for him to have a hear procedure by a great cartiologist at Mt Sinai. We flew on AA where everyone boarding was required to have on a mask and flight attendants walked the aisles to assure people kept their masks on. Unlike SW and Delta, AA isn’t leaving center seat empty so we were very nervous with full flights for both legs (direct flights stopped from MEM to any airport in NYC area). They did keep the plane much cooler than normal which helped when wearing a mask. We flew into EWR Terminal A which is an antique but pleasantly found the restrooms and entire terminal super clean which was a new experience to me since I went in and out of EWR on both Delta and AA for 10 years on business trips. It was great to see most people in NYC wearing masks and restaurants were doing a great job in preparing food to go since NYC was still locked down. Even a great majority of the protestors were wearing masks and our hotel required masks to be worn in public spaces. At our ages and with his health issues, we don’t go anywhere without a mask. Better to protect ourselves as much as possible from non-mask wearers and others should we be asymptomatic with Covid.

  12. Here as with everywhere else, the self annointed peoples army crowd insulting anyone who does not agree with them.
    The fear mongers rule at this time. As to science there are many opinions not just the ‘approved experts’. Personally I am not going anywhere until this mask mania and anti social behavour wears off.

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