Mask Mandates Are Expiring or Going Away. What’s Best for You and Your Family
Due to a federal court strike-down of current COVID-related masking orders in public transportation, many states have eased or suspended their mask mandates indefinitely. You might have questions about current restrictions in your area or what these changes mean for you and your family, especially in light of recent upticks in coronavirus variants. Regardless of your health or vaccination status, masking is still an effective way to protect against the spread of COVID and other infections in high-risk areas.
The Reversal of Mask Mandates
Initially, the federal mask mandate for public transit was supposed to end on May 3 to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) enough time to monitor the coronavirus BA.2 variant. This was an extension of an April 18 deadline because of the CDC’s growing concern about the recent rise in BA.2 infections.
On April 18, a federal judge struck down the CDC’s order, arguing that the agency did not follow proper rulemaking procedures and overstepped its authority. This ruling overturned mask mandates for commercial flights, public transit, and all transportation hubs in airports and train stations.
Although people are still allowed to make the personal decision to mask, the US Transportation Security Administration(TSA) no longer enforces face coverings. The Biden Administration has pushed back on the federal judge’s ruling, and the U.S. Department of Justice began an appeal of the ruling on April 20.
After extending the requirements amid the Delta and Omicron surges, many cities, municipalities, and counties have now dropped their masking requirements in the wake of the April 18 decision. Although there are no longer any state-wide mandates for masking in public places, some states require it for long-term care homes, medical facilities, and other high-risk environments.
These recent developments have created inconsistencies across cities about mask enforcement. For example, while in Washington, DC, the metro system is making masks optional, both the New York City subway and Los Angeles County are continuing their mandates.
It seems as though the major airlines wasted no time getting rid of their masking policies. Delta Air Lines released a statement saying it was “relieved” that it can now make masking optional and not required. Later, the company updated its statement referring to COVID as “a more manageable respiratory virus.”
Many public health experts have voiced apprehension over these developments, especially because of what we still don’t know about the impact of long-haul COVID. Columbia epidemiologist Maureen Miller explains, “We’re basically ensuring that infectious and susceptible people are together for a chunk of time, with no protection at all.” Despite common feelings of fatigue and frustration with the extended safety measures, many experts encourage continued masking as long as new cases still emerge.
Although many Americans who fly commercially appear jubilant about the ruling, others remain concerned. Almost half of the people in the United States (45%) in a Politico-Morning Consult Poll expressed concern that the lifting of the asking mandate on public and commercial transit was too early. In contrast, 36% of people surveyed either thought it was the right time or that the mandates should have terminated sooner.
Masking Still Protects Against COVID Spread
In light of the April 18 ruling, the CDC still recommends that you wear a mask anytime you use public transit or are indoors in an area at high risk for COVID transmission. In this case, high risk refers to the number of new infections, community hospitalization rates, and local hospital capacity.
The lifting or lessening of mandates in your area does not have to discourage you from continuing prevention efforts like masking indoors or in high-risk places. Being near others for a long time can promote viral spread and put you and others at increased risk. Wearing a well-fitting mask around the mouth and nose is still an excellent way to cut down on the spread and protect yourself and others.
If you choose not to mask but see others doing so, remember that wearing one is recommended and not required. At this stage of the pandemic, people who are masking likely want to protect others. When deciding whether or not to mask, you can go to the CDC website to learn about the risk of COVID in your area. You can also check out the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) website for updated mask mandates in your state.
Research and materials for this article were compiled, written, and distributed on behalf of the National Public Health Information Coalition. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the various authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Public Health Information Coalition or its members.