While COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths have rapidly collapsed all across the U.S., the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) still isn't ready to let people take off their masks on airplanes, buses, trains, and subways.
The mask mandate for public transportation was set to expire on March 18, but the TSA has extended it for at least another month, on the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Federal health officials are working on a "revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor," according to NPR.
The current extension will last until April 18, though there's no guarantee that this will be the final extension.
Contrary to what the TSA and the CDC think, it would be perfectly reasonable for passengers and commuters to de-mask right now. At this point, mask mandates are arbitrary. There is no scientific rationale for forcibly masking young school children but not restaurant diners, or subway riders but not library visitors, or airline passengers but not members of Congress: Our elderly president, senators, and senior administration officials were nearly entirely unmasked for the State of the Union. Government planners are making up policies that have no basis in health.
In December, the heads of various airlines testified before Congress that the air filtration systems on planes are better than the air filtration systems in hospital intensive care units. "I think the case is very strong that masks don't add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment," said Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines. "It is very safe and very high quality compared to any other indoor setting."
A few days later, White House coronavirus advisor Anthony Fauci said that he thought people should wear masks on airplanes for… forever, essentially. "I think when you're dealing with a closed space, even though the filtration is good, that you want to go that extra step when you have people—you know, you get a flight from Washington to San Francisco, it's well over a five-hour flight," he said. "Even though you have a good filtration system, I still believe that masks are a prudent thing to do, and we should be doing it."
Passengers who want the extra protection afforded by masks are welcome to keep wearing them. But other people might rationally decide that masks are more annoying than helpful. This is certainly the case for parents traveling with young children who struggle to keep them on for long flights. Frustratingly for them, the TSA requires flight attendants to vigorously enforce the mandate.
Enough is enough. The TSA is not accustomed to relaxing its overly broad and poorly thought-out infringements on travelers' civil liberties—20 years after 9/11, we still remove our shoes and belts before setting foot in the terminal, even though this cumbersome process doesn't make anyone safer—but it's long past time to ease up on masks (and all the other ridiculous safety measures too).