Yesterday, a federal judge in Florida threw out the government’s mask requirement for air travel. The ban, which had been repeatedly extended, was set to expire in just a few weeks, and, amid dropping support for Covid restrictions nationwide, the White House appeared to sort of accept defeat, withholding any immediate indication they intended to appeal the ruling.
(Update: Five seconds after I published this post the DOJ announced they will probably appeal it, but, according to Pete Williams, they won’t ask to stay yesterday’s ruling, which means for now the ban is dead but that at some point in the future there is the unlikely possibility it could come back. “This is a compromise,” Gabriel Mayor writes. “DOJ is always going to want to defend the institutional power of the executive (here, the CDC), no matter which party is in power. But politically the mask mandate is a loser, so they're not going to ask for a stay in the meantime.”)
After that White House Press Conference, during which the press secretary said TSA would no longer enforce the ban, all the airlines immediately put out statements celebrating its demise and social media was flooded with videos of people mid-flight being told they could take off their masks. Many were ecstatic! Sort of suspiciously ecstatic? But many others were whatever the opposite of ecstatic is.
I definitely think that it was a screw up to do this mid-flight. Without getting into the back and forth about the effectiveness of the mask mandates, a lot of people on those planes think the mask rules are protecting them. They got on the plane expecting that protection. Midway through the flight that protection—to whatever extent it was effective—was taken away from them while they were 35,000 feet in the air with no place to go.
You can probably write this off to the surprising way this happened. People weren’t expecting that ruling,. People then assumed that the government would immediately ask to stay the ruling pending an appeal. But they didn’t. The airlines had apparently no plan in place for a situation like this and so everything was a clusterfuck.
But that was yesterday and now everyone has time to absorb the reality and do some thinking about what to do. It seems to me that what should be done is fairly straight forward: the airlines should make N95 masks available to people who want them. N95 masks are super effective for the wearer.
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