Take off your mask, passengers. No, wait — put them back on.
If you're confused by the signals you've been getting this week, that makes two of us.
On Monday, a Florida judge struck down the federal mask mandate for airline passengers. The face coverings flew off almost immediately on all major U.S. airlines and in virtually every American airport. But two days later, the CDC asked the Justice Department to appeal the ruling.
We had a heated debate about the dropped mask mandate on Tuesday and again in the Friday Forum when the CDC appealed.
Talk about whiplash!
Now, summer travelers aren't sure what to expect when they go to the airport, bus terminal or train station. It's confusing. For example, if you're flying out of Los Angeles International Airport on a domestic carrier, you'll have to wear a mask in the terminal, but not on the plane. But you'll need to keep your mask on if you're flying internationally.
This is starting to get ridiculous. You might be wondering: Whom should you trust? What should you do if you're flying? And how will this end? I've been asking myself the same questions lately.
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Should you follow the CDC's guidance?
So do you wear a mask or not? Many readers already know the answer. Some of you believe masks are essential to your health while COVID is still out there. Others don't think masks make any difference, so you’ve stopped wearing them.
What does the CDC have to say about this?
"Masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health," it said in a statement announcing the appeal. "As we have said before, wearing masks is most beneficial in crowded or poorly ventilated locations, such as the transportation corridor. When people wear a well-fitting mask or respirator over their nose and mouth in indoor travel or public transportation settings, they protect themselves, and those around them, including those who are immunocompromised or not yet vaccine-eligible, and help keep travel and public transportation safer for everyone."
Some passengers have framed this as a trust issue. Specifically, do you trust the federal government or not? (After all, haven't the feds changed their position on masks a few times already? Who's to say they aren't wrong this time?)
But I think it's more of a public safety issue. Sure, the CDC might be wrong about masks. It's not perfect. But what if it isn't? What if the agency is correct? What if face coverings will prevent infections in crowded transportation corridors? I think if only one life could be saved, it would be enough justification to keep the masks on, at least until the pandemic is officially over.
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What to do if you're flying during a period of mask uncertainty
For now, at least, masks are a personal choice. Does that mean you should wear one even when the rest of the plane isn't?
You've probably read the same recycled articles in the last week that feature the same medical experts saying the same things. I'll spare you a lengthy explanation. The experts believe COVID isn't over. They recommend that you continue wearing a mask, particularly on mass transportation systems like buses, planes and trains. And about one-third of travelers will take that advice, according to a recent Global Rescue survey.
Again, it's a personal choice — but it might also be a smart choice.
We talked about the parallels between seat belts and face masks last week. Interestingly, seat belts were optional for many years before they became standard. And it was many more years before states adopted seat belt laws. No one knows how many lives were saved by wearing an optional seatbelt. But would you want to be the person who lost your life because you decided to forgo a seatbelt?
Whether they're taking a bus, plane or train, I think travelers have to make a similar calculation. No, face masks may no longer be required. But I'm either going to wear them for my personal health and safety — or not. (I, for one, am planning to play it safe.)
How this will end
This isn't going to end well. The CDC appeal could take a while. In the meantime, passengers will wonder if the mask rules will return or not. It could make for an uncertain summer, where vacationers don't know if they should pack their masks.
I would take one, just in case. Imagine the inflight announcement when the CDC wins its appeal. Everyone put your masks on now!
The end won't be the end, of course. This week's mask ruling and subsequent appeal have deepened our political divisions. One side believes masks represent common-sense protection of public health. The other thinks "face diapers" are symbols of tyranny. The gap is widening.
This shouldn't be happening. There are some things that everyone should be able to agree on, and public health is one of them.
Look for more chaos in the weeks ahead as the mask issue works through the courts. Some municipalities will probably continue to require masks in their bus terminals, airports, and train stations, even if this appears to be a settled matter.
Actually, when it comes to COVID, it seems nothing is ever a settled matter.
After this week's court ruling on face coverings and subsequent appeal, how are you planning to travel? Will you continue to pack a mask? Will you wear one? The comments are open.
About the art
Dustin Elliott drew inspiration for his latest work from early 20th-century propaganda posters and the documentary "Transcendent Man." He sought to explore topics of money, politics and big pharma in this week's illustration. "Is our safety really at stake," he asks. "Or are the shareholders and lobbyists doing what they do best?"