You can leave your mask on
The travel industry wants you to remove your face covering. Here's why you shouldn't.
The masks are coming off faster than I can keep track.
Four British airlines eased their masking requirements last week. KLM said it would no longer enforce a face mask requirement onboard. TUI Airways dropped its face-covering rules on certain flights, too.
And then there are the U.S. airlines, which petitioned the government to eliminate its mask rules last week. In an open letter to President Biden, industry lobbyists at A4A said, "The science clearly supports lifting the mask mandate."
Airlines insisted they could eliminate the mask mandate in airports and onboard aircraft, just as England has done. At the same time, passengers who want more protection can voluntarily wear a mask.
We had a lively discussion about the merits of scrapping the mask rule on Friday. But here's the truth: We might be fine if we lose the masks, but we might not. What harm would a few extra weeks of masking do?
Are you taking off your mask?
Before we continue, I have to ask: If the government tells you you can take off your mask, will you? Or are you waiting to see what happens with this next wave … or until you feel safe? Click the red button or scroll down to leave a comment.
Who wants to keep the masks?
Crew members think getting rid of the masks is a terrible idea. Last month, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA called on the administration to extend the mask mandate past March 18 (it did). Flight attendants said not requiring masks would put passengers in danger, such as the children under five who haven't been vaccinated.
There's also this: Wastewater surveillance by the CDC, an early warning for a new outbreak, suggests COVID cases are about to rise again. There are several red zones in the United States where traces of COVID in water samples are skyrocketing. If those translate into new cases, and we remove one of the proven ways of stopping the spread of COVID-19, the results could be unfortunate.
So it's safe to say there are people in the scientific community who think it's way too soon to stop wearing a mask, especially on public transportation systems like buses, planes, and trains.
As Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and chief science officer at eMed, said, "I don't think I'll ever stop wearing a mask in airports."
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Who wants to ditch the masks?
Almost everyone else is ready to drop the masks.
A new Ipsos poll reveals that just a quarter of Americans (26 percent) report wearing a mask when leaving home, down from 43 percent in early February. Meanwhile, support for mask mandates reached its lowest level since Ipsos started asking about the mandates last August. A narrow majority (51 percent) support their state or local government requiring masks in public places, compared to roughly 63 percent during the previous six months.
Nowhere is that impatience more evident than the travel industry, particularly airlines. Passengers have been grumbling about wearing masks and occasionally lashing out at flight attendants. In fairness, these outburst are happening far less frequently these days. An industry-wide blacklist of bad passengers is unnecessary.
Maybe it's also a sign that we're learning to live with masks.
Share this newsletter — if you dare
It takes real courage to share this edition of Elliott Confidential with a friend. After all, masks are so politicized. Send it — if you dare.
Why you should leave your mask on
In the coming weeks, you'll be able to go mask-free almost everywhere. That probably includes airplane travel. I don't see the federal government extending the current mandate after April.
But that doesn't mean you should take your mask off.
If you're immunocompromised or not vaccinated, you should seriously consider leaving your mask on.
If you're in a crowded space — indoors or outdoors — you might want to wear a face covering.
And yes, if you're on a long flight, you should consider keeping the mask on.
I remember what it was like to fly before the pandemic. I flew without a mask, and I would catch a cold every other flight. Once I started flying with a face covering, maintaining a social distance and using hand sanitizer, I never got sick.
So this comes down to a personal choice for me. Airlines and the federal government may say it's unnecessary to wear a face covering on a flight. But I can still wear a mask if I want to. And I think I will.
I'm worried about mask discrimination
I'm concerned for those who choose to practice these common-sense health precautions. That's because there's a vocal minority who hate masks and can't wait to get rid of them. When they see me exercising my right to wear a mask or practice social distancing, what will they say?
Well, I already know what they'll say. I've been cornered by anti-maskers twice in Arizona during the second surge. An angry man ordered me to take off my "f**ing mask" (I politely declined). Another woman in a coffee shop told me I didn't need my mask because it was useless. (I also refused.)
Confrontations seem to be a thing for me this week. I also got accosted by an angry patron at a food market in Cape Town. Details in our latest podcast. And for the record, Mr. Angry was not wearing a face covering.
If I feel like I'm not ready to unmask myself, am I going to keep getting yelled at by, you know, them? What a crazy world this is where people get into trouble for trying to protect their health and the health of those around them.
The mask mandates are going out the door. I wouldn't be so quick to follow, even if you're getting heckled along the way.
Are you taking off your mask?
Even if airlines allow it, will you fly maskless? Why or why not? Would you feel more comfortable sitting next to a masked passenger (or not)? The comments are open.
About the art
Artist Dustin Elliott wanted to capture the fear and uncertainty of mask wearers — and those who refuse to wear a mask. "Has it been virtue signaling all along — or the hardest of science with a dash of mortal fear?" he wonders. "Who knows?"