US Airlines raced to remove mask requirements today after 35 year old Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle vacated the CDC mandate based on the agency exceeding its authority.
But nothing happened until the Biden administration announced shortly after the ruling, that the TSA would no longer enforce the mask mandate.
The Biden administration was in a tough place. Popular opinion in the country is that we should be done with COVID precautions. But with BA.2 cases increasing, it would face heavy criticism for removing the mask mandate, so the administration extended the mandate by 1 month and then 2 weeks to buy itself time. That wouldn’t have helped as it’s unlikely we’ll know any more in 2 weeks. I think that the judge did the administration a favor by striking down the mandate, as it allows an off ramp for an unpopular mask mandate. The administration now has cover and can say that its hands were tied. Perhaps it was even waiting for an outcome like this?
For that reason, I don’t expect the administration to appeal the decision. Appealing the decision would also risk having the Supreme Court set precedent by ruling to limit federal powers such as these in the future, though a loss may still be narrow enough to avoid that. Even a Supreme Court ruling in Biden’s favor may prove to hurt the administration by declaring that war on COVID hasn’t been won, when the administration needs it to be won well before the midterm elections.
In a scene that happened on many flights this evening, an announcement was made at boarding that mask requirements were still in place despite the judge’s ruling:
But while in the air, policies changed.
Airlines sent their pilots ACARS messages letting them know about the rule change, telling them to play the hero:
— BOOSTER TRIBE 4/20+69 (@Michael10711597) April 19, 2022
And flight attendants, pilots, and passengers in the air cheered and celebrated the change:
It’s official!! First mask optional mask tonight!! I hope I can find my lipstick in my bag! pic.twitter.com/FUzkiztGA9
— StephMillerB (@MillerRosePhoto) April 18, 2022
The videos are just surreal. Crew and passengers feel victorious and elated in ways perhaps not seen since ticker-tape parades were held after World War II.
Pilots compared the news to 9/11 and other crazy times in the nation’s history.
Perhaps on some level, this feels like the end of the 2 years of COVID. Whether that’s truly the case or not was irrelevant for celebrations 7 miles up in the air.
— Gianni (@sythergonred) April 19, 2022
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your pilot speaking. This is the most important announcement I’ve ever made. The federal mask mandate is over. Take off your mask if you choose!”
— Ben Dietderich (@ben_dietd) April 18, 2022
Delta Airlines says masks are no longer required on their flights pic.twitter.com/2FNcL1UCMd
— LeGate (founder @ GoodPillow™) (@williamlegate) April 18, 2022
😷MASK MANDATE LIFTED😷
Myself, and a couple hundred others, just learned mid-flight that the mask mandate is over?!
The @Delta Airlines staff just got on the intercom to announce the mandate is lifted and now optional!
Cheers followed the announcement!
— Dillon Thomas (@DillonMThomas) April 19, 2022
Plane applauded as the stewardess announced the end of the mandate. She broke into tears as she got to take off her mask for the first time in 2 years 😭 pic.twitter.com/WlCpZk30QM
— Kyle Mann (@The_Kyle_Mann) April 19, 2022
Reactions from many people on Twitter were angry, with people incredulous that the news onboard planes was greeted so enthusiastically. But perhaps that shows just how much of an echo chamber social media can be.
I was all for mask requirements at the beginning of the pandemic as we had few other tools in our shed. It was a long-shot, but we hoped that it would be a band-aid until the vaccine was released which we hoped would end the pandemic. But once vaccines were widely available, the rationale for continuing mask requirements became weaker by the day. Unfortunately, COVID-19 proved far more adept than the measles and other viruses in mutating and evading vaccine immunity, which is why it isn’t going away anytime soon and will likely prove to be an endemic seasonal virus.
Requiring mask mandates forever was just not tenable. Nor did masks prove to help in places like Hong Kong with nearly perfect mask compliance. The time was overripe for them to end. Nothing was gained with cloth masks that were removed during mealtime. And nothing will stop the immunocompromised from wearing properly fitted N95s to protect themselves going forward.
What do you think about the end of masking requirements? Do you think the requirements will return again?