Mar 18, 2022 - Health

The last masking holdouts

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A dwindling number of places are requiring masks as the U.S. inches towards normalcy — with airplanes, trains and buses the notable holdouts.

The big picture: The TSA's mask mandate stands in stark contrast to virtually every other venue across the U.S., where masks have largely been nixed.

  • Governors, including from blue states, have lifted masking in public spaces as lawmakers tout that the pandemic has entered an "endemic phase."
  • School districts — including the most hesitant — have largely abandoned masking requirements.
  • And Hawaii, the last U.S. state with a statewide mandate, announced that it is ending its mask mandate later this month.

Zoom in: The Transportation Security Administration last week extended its mask mandate that was originally set to expire on March 18 for another month.

  • "During that time, CDC will work with government agencies to help inform a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor," the TSA said in a statement.

Medical experts advocate for continued masking on public transportation, specifically air travel, to reduce broader community transmission.

  • One person wearing a masks reduces the likelihood of getting COVID-19 by about 50%, Leonard J. Marcus, director of the Aviation Public Health Initiative at Harvard University said, adding that the chance of transmitting also decreases by about 50%.
  • "If you put that together – so you’ve got a lot of people on an aeroplane, everybody’s wearing a mask – you’ve done something, in combination with the ventilation system, that really reduces the likelihood of transmission," Marcus said.

State of play: The TSA's requirement has drawn criticism from some Americans, including a group of senators, who say all mask mandates should be abandoned.

  • The Senate passed a resolution this week in a 57-40 vote that would undo the TSA's extended mask mandate, with eight Democrats signing on, NBC News reports.
  • "We have it within our power today to ensure the American people that we are irreversibly going back to normal," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said.

Between the lines: Many Americans, including individuals with compromised immune systems that put them at greater risk for severe illness, feel left behind as the country ditches mandates, the New York Times reports.

  • "I know my normal is never going to be normal," 44-year-old Chris Neblett, who is immunocompromised, told Kaiser Health News.
  • "I’m still going to be wearing a mask in public. I’m still probably going to go to the grocery store late at night or early in the morning to avoid other people."

In addition to public transportation, masks are still required in some U.S. territories, including Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and in some hospitals and health care settings.

The bottom line: "You don’t want to be translocating the disease—taking it from a place where there’s very high transmission to a place where there’s lower transmission," Marcus also said.

  • "Taking particular care when people are in transit at this point of the pandemic is still a really good idea."

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