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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: Is TSA right to lift mask mandates?

Travelers line up at a ticket counter and Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Photo courtesy of RDU Airport Authority.

With summer break quickly approaching, many of us are already planning trips to destinations far and near. Some of us may end up flying, and for those that do, they may be welcomed by a “new” sight: the sight of fewer masks at the airport and on planes.

On April 18, a federal judge in Florida ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had overstepped its authority when it issued a mask mandate for flying and other public transportation methods. In response, the Transportation Security Administration announced that it would no longer be enforcing the mask mandate on planes and other public transit.

The effect cascaded when United Airlines, Delta Airlines and Alaska Airlines announcing masks would no longer be required on domestic, and some international flights. Amtrak also followed suit with a similar announcement regarding the new optional mask policy.

With the mask mandate being lifted even for travelers, it seems like nearly every aspect of life has returned to “normal.”

However, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise again in parts of the United States, across places like Florida and Colorado, and throughout the world in places like Shanghai, where the local government instituted draconian measures to curb the spread of the virus. 

The new wave of COVID-19 infections come as a result of the current dominant variant, BA.2, as well as its subvariants.

With these developments, is it a bad time to lift these remaining restrictions amidst a COVID-19 resurgence?

While many people have welcomed the relaxation or downright removal of pandemic restrictions, there are still some who remain concerned about the pandemic for their own health or for those around them who might be immunocompromised.

Therefore, it can be easy to see why opinion on this subject can vary wildly depending on who you ask. 

On the one hand, as annoying as masks can be, they don’t drastically impact many of the non-physical activities, such as sitting on a plane or train, and would be the responsible policy decision.

A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research has indicated that Americans might actually support specific mask mandates on planes and public transit, with 56 percent of respondents saying they would support such a measure as opposed to just 20 percent of those who don’t support it. 

Based on this information, airlines and train companies could reinstate mask mandates for passengers using their services without too much of a backlash. Will they though? Or will the possibility of negative PR dissuade companies from reimposing such measures?

With summer travel on the horizon, any decision that airlines or train companies make will impact significantly lot more people. Despite the progress we have made with vaccines and other measures, we must still acknowledge that COVID-19 is still present. Things aren’t completely “normal,” and probably won’t be for a while. 

Therefore, maintaining a few measures, such as masks in congested spaces like airplanes, isn’t a bad idea and it wouldn't really impact many people since only those who frequently fly or travel by train would feel the impact.

And as the AP-NORC poll suggests, many Americans aren't bothered by the measure.

This summer, don’t let COVID-19 stop you from taking that trip you’ve been planning for months, or from exploring new sights and expanding your horizons. But exercise some caution when doing so because we're not out of the woods just yet.


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