NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, April 19th, 2022

Transportation providers endanger health of traveling public in rush to abandon masking

With­in min­utes of hav­ing learned that a Trump-appoint­ed judge in Flori­da had issued a rul­ing yes­ter­day strik­ing down the Cen­ters For Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion’s fed­er­al reg­u­la­tion requir­ing face cov­er­ings on pub­lic trans­port, air­lines and many oth­er trans­porta­tion providers through­out the coun­try rushed to announce that masks were no longer required on board — includ­ing in some cas­es through irre­spon­si­ble mid-flight announce­ments made by jubi­lant pilots.

The sud­den pol­i­cy shift, made with absolute­ly no regard for the poten­tial adverse impacts on immuno­com­pro­mised pas­sen­gers, chil­dren, or those not wish­ing to trav­el in mask option­al envi­ron­ments, is yet anoth­er devel­op­ment that will like­ly help pro­long the pan­dem­ic — with dead­ly and omi­nous consequences.

“Let’s be real­ly clear about what is hap­pen­ing at this stage in the pan­dem­ic: We are giv­ing up on pub­lic health and embrac­ing the pri­va­ti­za­tion of health in ways that serve the able and young and write off any­one vul­ner­a­ble,” not­ed Meghan O’Rourke, author of The Invis­i­ble King­dom: Reimag­ing Chron­ic Ill­ness.

Tran­sit providers, with the notable excep­tion of New York’s Met­ro­pol­i­tan Trans­porta­tion Author­i­ty, wast­ed lit­tle time in fol­low­ing the air­lines’ “lead.” A news release sent this morn­ing that bore the logos of every major tran­sit agency in Puget Sound declared that mask require­ments would no longer be enforced.

In accor­dance with yesterday’s state­ment from the fed­er­al Trans­porta­tion Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion (TSA), agen­cies pro­vid­ing tran­sit to rid­ers through­out the Puget Sound region announced that face cov­er­ings will no longer be required on tran­sit, at tran­sit facil­i­ties or in tran­sit hubs effec­tive today.

Par­tic­i­pat­ing in this announce­ment are the fol­low­ing agencies:

  • Com­mu­ni­ty Transit
  • Everett Tran­sit
  • King Coun­ty Metro
  • Kit­sap Transit
  • Pierce Tran­sit
  • Seat­tle Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion (Seat­tle Streetcar)
  • Seat­tle Cen­ter Monorail
  • Sound Tran­sit

TSA’s ini­tial face mask require­ment went into effect on Feb­ru­ary 1, 2021. Pre­vi­ous to the TSA require­ment, Wash­ing­ton state and local health author­i­ties had issued man­dates for face cov­er­ings in pub­lic spaces.

While masks are no longer required on tran­sit, rid­ers are wel­come to con­tin­ue wear­ing face cov­er­ings if they wish. Please under­stand it will take time to update all of the announce­ments, signs, and oth­er com­mu­ni­ca­tions relat­ed to the fed­er­al mask mandate.

The glib we’re done with COVID atti­tude under­pin­ning these and oth­er recent pol­i­cy changes is iron­i­cal­ly hav­ing the effect of ensur­ing that we will not be “done with COVID” any­time this year, or in the indef­i­nite future, for that mat­ter. The demise of mask­ing require­ments will also set the stage for an uptick in the trans­mis­sion of oth­er air­borne virus­es, includ­ing the flu and var­i­ous cold viruses.

A sto­ry pub­lished just last week by CBS spells out what is like­ly going to hap­pen next, espe­cial­ly to the coun­try’s avi­a­tion indus­try:

Air­lines that dropped mask require­ments are now suf­fer­ing staff short­ages due to COVID-19

By Megan Cerullo

April 11, 2022 | 5:15 PM | MoneyWatch

Over­seas air­lines are hav­ing to can­cel hun­dreds of flights as they grap­ple with coro­n­avirus-relat­ed staffing short­ages weeks after they ditched rules requir­ing pas­sen­gers and staff to mask up in the air.

Epi­demi­ol­o­gist and health econ­o­mist Eric Fei­gl-Ding not­ed on Twit­ter two weeks ago that what hap­pened in Europe was entire­ly predictable:

Gov­ern­ment of the Unit­ed King­dom drops restric­tions, air­lines like easy­Jet drops masks… and less than 2 weeks lat­er… huge spike in pilots and flight atten­dants out sick with COVID-19 unable to work, and 120 flights can­celled! Air­line CEOs asked for this.

The same thing is now like­ly to hap­pen here in the Unit­ed States.

“Wear­ing a mask when exposed to a car­ri­er with no mask: upper bound risk of infec­tion is 30%,” tweet­ed health jus­tice advo­cate Michael Gra­novet­ter, cit­ing a study in PNAS. “When every­one is masked: upper bound risk of infec­tion is 0.4%. Pub­lic health breaks down when one makes it about per­son­al choice.”

Air­line CEOs and oth­ers now par­rot­ing the par­ty line of the we want to go back to nor­mal crowd seem rather des­per­ate to move on from the pandemic.

But a return to the past is not pos­si­ble. There is no going back. The only direc­tion we can go is onward. In their eager­ness to declare the glob­al pub­lic health emer­gency known as the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic over, they are ensur­ing that ill­ness and death will con­tin­ue… and alien­at­ing even more peo­ple in the process.

“Delta, your flight atten­dants greet­ing us ‘would you like cham­pagne? Let’s cel­e­brate no more masks’ is not what I paid for,” tweet­ed Ify Ike. “It’s not only child­ish but also cre­ates an uncom­fort­able, and poten­tial­ly hos­tile envi­ron­ment for those of us still masked. COVID is also not seasonal.”

Delta is already backtracking.

The air­line put out a state­ment that read, in part: “We are relieved to see the U.S. mask man­date lift to facil­i­tate glob­al trav­el as COVID-19 has tran­si­tioned to an ordi­nary sea­son­al virus.” After get­ting roast­ed online for absurd­ly call­ing COVID-19 an “ordi­nary sea­son­al virus,” Delta’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions team changed the state­ment to read: “We are relieved to see the U.S. mask man­date lift to facil­i­tate glob­al trav­el as COVID-19 tran­si­tions to a more man­age­able res­pi­ra­to­ry virus.”

Staff short­ages, can­cel­la­tions, and lots of upset trav­el­ers are like­ly going to be a fre­quent occur­rence this sum­mer as air­lines strug­gle to man­age COVID-19, hav­ing giv­en up on the most effec­tive tools for pre­vent­ing the virus’ spread.

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