A resigned sigh is the adults’ response to this week’s announcement that air travelers should continue to wear face masks amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
What’s Unwelcome: Titled Belly. Continuing concealment is a minor inconvenience as travelers return for leisure and business, especially for the short trips that domestic flights involve. Just treat her like an adult. Any complaint should be placed in the overhead bin next to carry-on baggage rather than being thrown at the flight crew.
On Wednesday, federal officials announced a two-week extension of mask requirements for travelers on “planes, trains and transit hubs.” This requirement was previously set to expire on Monday but will remain in place at least until May 3.
As much as everyone wants this pandemic to end, it clearly isn’t. A reasonably continuous mask requirement reflects this fact, although a two-week extension may be overly optimistic.
As of this week, an average of more than 500 Americans still die each day after contracting the COVID virus, according to the New York Times COVID tracker. That’s down 26% from the past 14 days, but it’s a shocking number nonetheless.
Comparing the number of current COVID deaths with those from a recent severe flu season offers a frightening perspective. The influenza virus often arrives with winter weather. In the 2017-2018 flu season, an estimated 61,000 Americans died after contracting the virus, far more than any year in that decade.
This amounts to 167 deaths per day on average. Now consider the same stats for COVID: 533 deaths per day. COVID may now be a familiar enemy as the pandemic enters its third year, but it remains a serious health threat.
News reports from the UK confirm this. New, more transmissible COVID variants are being traded. Cases in the UK rose in mid-March. Staff injuries contributed to flight disruptions and airport security backups.
What happens in Britain often presages a COVID cycle in the United States. Philadelphia announced this week that it will restore indoor mask requirements with cases at low but rising levels. Another red flag: The COVID outbreak affected US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others who attended a recent high-profile dinner in Washington, D.C.
Leaving the mask requirement in place for travelers, especially air travelers, is a reasonable and directed alternative to reintroducing broader mitigation measures. People from all over the world are sitting enclosed on planes, on waterways, and at gates. Then it is soon distributed in the community. These conditions can turn a regional outbreak into a global threat.
Other objections to be rejected:
- Airplanes filter the air. TRUE. But the filtration process may not be effective at the aisle, ticket counter or baggage cart. By now, the risks of relying on a single solution against COVID should be clear. A multi-layered approach is vital. This includes filters but also vaccinations, masks, and good hygiene.
- But I am grafted. The vaccine is indeed the most powerful weapon against the coronavirus, but its effectiveness against infection can wane over time or against variants, even as it continues to protect against severe disease. The vaccine is also not yet available for travelers 5 years old or younger. Masks help protect them and those who are immunocompromised.
- I heard masks don’t work. Nothing is 100% effective, but masks can significantly reduce the spread of COVID. One large recent study involved 1.1 million students in nine states. It found that schools where masking was mandatory “during a delta wave had approximately 72% fewer cases of SARS-CoV-2 transmission within the school than schools with optional or partial masking policies.”
There is worrying evidence also accumulating about the ongoing consequences of COVID. In February, the prestigious Nature magazine reported that “heart disease is on the rise after COVID – even with a mild case”. A large study published in the same journal in late March found that COVID infection can increase the risk of developing diabetes for up to a year afterward.
Masking protects you and protects those around you. Extending mask requirements for air travelers – at least temporarily – was the right call.