By mid- to late-July airline CEOs were calling for an end to the federal transportation mask mandate. Since vaccines were widely available, people could protect themselves through vaccination or choose not to – but there was no longer a great reason to require people to protect the unvaccinated from their own poor choices.
By the end of July, though, I predicted that the mask mandate would be extended past September 13. The CDC was again recommending indoor masks for those who have been vaccinated, and interstate transportation is the area where the federal government has the strongest regulatory power (although their legal authority under 42 USC 264(a) to require masks is questionable).
Vaccination and improved treatments for Covid-19 (data out last week on fluvoxamine looks promising while ivermectin showed “no significant effect”) should make Covid-19 manageable as it becomes endemic.
However laying out what an endemic Covid-19 future looks like, President Biden’s former White House Sr Advisor for COVID Response suggests that a federal transportation mandate should become permanent:
These are things we should be willing to tolerate:
-Masks when we travel & in heavy seasons
-Staying home when we’re sick— always
-Weather reports as there on for smog or allergy seasons
-Caution around key populations
-Showing we are vaccinated/tested 20/
— Andy Slavitt 🇺🇸💉 (@ASlavitt) August 14, 2021
My own bet is that though this idea may represent mainstream thinking within certain policy circles, it won’t be something that the Biden administration adopts, for the same reason he’s called on OPEC for more oil production despite such a move running contrary to his own environmental policy goals. Biden wants to declare victory over the pandemic. And he doesn’t want the political downsides to making such a requirement permanent.
This is ultimately a political decision and not a scientific one. The U.S. mask mandate doesn’t require quality masks that might meaningfully affect virus transmission, the way that Lufthansa and Finnair now do. Lifting the mandate looks ‘weak on coronovirus’ while cases are still elevated (even if they’re falling by September 13). Imposing the mandate as the 2022 midterms approach creates a narrative over a choice of ‘what kind of normal’ the future looks like and turns it into an electoral issue.
That’s why I’ve laid down a marker that the mask mandate certainly gets lifted before the 2022 mid-term elections. Currently betting markets have control over the Senate a 50-50 toss-up, with the House falling to Republican control.