The fact that the transportation mask mandate is set to end in nine days and no decision about its future has been announced yet – or even leaked – tells me that the administration has had internal disagreement and uncertainty on what to do with it.
On the one hand they haven’t wanted to be ‘wrong’ being seen to declare victory over Covid-19 too early. They remember well a declaration of independence from Covid last 4th of July.
On the other hand, the facts on the ground really have changed with the seven day average of reported cases down 95% from their peak; hospitals not overwhelmed; a dominant strain that’s less virulent; boosters that are holding up well against hospitalization; and more widespread treatments like reformulated monoclonal antibodies and small molecule inhibitors (Paxlovid).
Even Hawaii is lifting its indoor mask mandate. No state will have one. Does it make airports, planes, trains and buses to the only places most people have to wear masks as a matter of law, where planes are relatively safer indoor environments and when cloth masks are ineffective yet satisfy the requirement?
I’ve argued from the start that the mask mandate would need to be lifted before the midterm elections, with control of the House and Senate in the balance. The political need to lift requirements may be even more imperative than that, with inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (and U.S. response) driving up gas prices. Democrats of President Biden’s age will want to avoid a malaise presidency asking for too much sacrifice across too many dimensions at the same time.
Gas is now officially more expensive than the movie I Am Legend imagined it would be during the apocalypse. pic.twitter.com/Av98Vdiwxn
— Taylor Trandahl (@ttrandahl) March 7, 2022
Sara Nelson’s Association of Flight Attendants has walked back stories about its lobbying to continue the mask requirement on planes. This may be the second biggest tell that it’s on the chopping block after the administration’s lack of an announcement about its future.
- Many flight attendants don’t want the requirement, they’re the ones who have to wear masks the most since they fly more than passengers do.
- The union may sense that the mask requirement will be lifted and doesn’t want to appear weak being on the losing side of the argument – better to appear neutral.
While I anticipated Russia’s invasion of Ukraine I didn’t anticipate that it could play into the decision over whether to extend the federal transportation mask mandate. But the decision is ultimately a political one, and current politics could move up when the mandate gets lifted – no longer having to wait until close to the midterms.