TRavelers may have to stick to their face masks for much longer. As the daily number of reported Covid-19 cases moves up again in the US, driven by the highly transmissible omicron BA.2 variant, there are signs that mask mandates may remain in the travel landscape.
The proportion of Americans who say they always wear masks in public has fallen to just 23%, the lowest level since April 2020, according to tracking data from the University of Washington in Seattle. Notably, vaccinated Americans are twice (70%) more likely than unvaccinated Americans (32%) to report regularly wearing a mask in public, according to data from the Pew Research Center.
At the same time, testing has also fallen dramatically, so dealing with the real number of daily infections has become more difficult for officials. According to the latest University of Washington estimates, the true number of daily infections is likely to be nine times higher than what is being reported. This massive gap amounts to approximately 282,531 Covid cases not reported just today.
This combination has also been factored in that, from coast to coast, most cities and states have rescinded inland mask mandates, leaving the decision on whether or not to wear masks to individuals.
In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser allowed vaccination and indoor masking to expire at the end of February, and the city’s health department stopped reporting daily Covid case numbers in March. Within weeks, an outbreak in the nation’s capital led to some high-level cases of COVID-19 among Cabinet ministers and members of Congress along with Mayor Muriel Bowser herself. And last week, two prominent universities in the Washington, D.C. area — Georgetown and Johns Hopkins — reinstated mandatory concealment and testing requirements due to an increase in positive cases among students.
The wave of new infections in New York City has also affected the Broadway stage, where mask and vaccination policies will remain in effect until at least April 30. Some “Plaza Suite” and “Macbeth” shows have been canceled after cast members tested positive for Covid-19.
A spike in COVID-19 cases may lead Philadelphia to reauthorize its mask as soon as today. Just five weeks ago, the City of Brotherly Love dropped the inner mask requirement. But with Covid-19 cases on the rise, the city’s health department has warned of a sharp rise in cases. “As more cases of Covid-19 emerge in the city, the risk of everyone getting infected goes up,” Dr. Sherrill Pettigoll, the city’s health commissioner, said last week. “Now is the time to start taking precautions. This is not yet required, but Philadelphia should give strong consideration to wearing a mask while in public indoor spaces.”
A week later, the city was reported to have met the threshold to begin returning to mandatory indoor mask-wearing. Philadelphia is currently at Level 1: All Clear. To enter “level 2: mask precautions”, you must meet the city Two out of three criteria in guidance. This threshold appears to have been met.
The first criterion is that the average daily new Covid-19 cases should rise above 100. The number of new cases has jumped dramatically from 94 per day last week to 142 this week. Second, cases should increase by more than 50% in the previous 10 days. This metric has been exceeded. The third criterion, the only one not met, is that the number of Covid-related hospitalizations will need to exceed 100. The city currently reports 48 cases in hospital.
Meanwhile, the federal mask for air travel and public transportation that has been in place since February 2021 for one week from today, is set to expire on April 18. today’s show This morning, the White House’s coordinator for Covid-19, Dr Ashish Jha, said keeping the mandate in place was “totally on the table”.
The mandate has been a divisive topic, with 21 states suing the federal government to end it. Last month, the chief executives of the seven US airlines – Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaii, JetBlue, United and Southwest – wrote to President Biden asking him to end the mask’s mandate.
But polls indicate that the majority of Americans support maintaining this requirement. Six in 10 Americans (60%) support extending the mask mandate, according to the Covid-19 tracing survey in a Harris Poll poll in early April. Nearly a third of Americans (32%) said they “strongly support” extending the mask mandate to travel, compared to 19% “strongly against” doing so.
Last month, a Morning Consult survey also found that 60% of US adults believe travel and hospitality companies should require customers to wear masks — although that is down from 71% in January, at the height of the Omicron boom. Notably, those who plan to travel over the next three months are more likely to support maintaining face mask mandates.
“Throughout the entire pandemic, we have wanted to make decisions based on evidence and science, and that, I expect, is what we will be doing again this week,” Jha said, stressing that the final decision will be up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).