Wearing masks during the pandemic has long been divisive in the United States. And now that a federal judge has thrown out the mask mandate on airplanes and public transportation, the rules have been thrown into chaos in some places. Many were lifted, and a few were relocated.
But while the changes cause some confusion, Americans’ attitudes toward the restrictions have faltered little in recent months and are, in fact, still passionate. Some, already in the habit of public masking and seeing Covid-19 cases on the rise again in parts of the country, are angry at losing the protection they relied on. Others rave about letting go of those annoying bands behind their ears.
“Ecstatic” was the way Patrick McDonnell, a 30-year-old Brooklyn architect, described his feelings, adding, “Enough is enough.” Mr McDonnell said he found wearing a mask “annoying” and “inconvenient” and that he has already stopped masking on the New York City subway, although face coverings are still mandatory on public transit in the city.
“Adults should be able to make their own decisions about the risks they are willing to take,” said Mr. McDonnell. As for masking for fellow drivers who are older or in poor health, he said vaccines and treatments are now available for Covid-19, and he should no longer change his behavior to accommodate others.
“I want to pick up my life again,” he said. “Do I have to consider everyone in the world around me when I make a decision?”
Mr. McDonnell was one of thousands who responded to a DailyExpertNews appeal asking how readers felt about the court’s decision to lift the mandate, whether they would continue to mask on planes, buses and trains and whether they reconsidered travel plans. The respondents are not representative of the American population.
Surveys of public opinion before the court’s ruling yielded mixed opinions. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 1,243 adults conducted in March reported that eight in 10 adults said they had recently worn a mask indoors, but only six in 10 wanted to wear a mask in some public areas to help prevent the spread of Covid to continue to minimize and prevent a new wave. But the poll also found that respondents were evenly split on whether or not to renew or cancel the mask mandate for public transport. People of color, those on lower incomes and those with chronic health problems were more likely to support masking policies, as did Democrats.
Another survey of 1,085 adults in mid-April by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 56 percent of respondents were in favor of using masks on public transportation, while about one-fourth opposed and one-fifth had no opinion.
The US government is appealing the decision that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not have the authority to impose the mask mandate for transportation, which was due to expire in early May.
Since Monday’s ruling, some cities have decided to keep their public transport mask mandates, although the rules don’t seem to be enforced much. Most states or cities that had some sort of mask restrictions on indoor gatherings lifted them a while ago. And some southern and western states had banned any form of masking rule, so public transportation — via airlines, trains, subways or buses — remained one of the last exceptions outside hospitals and healthcare facilities.
Britain dropped its travel restrictions on the coronavirus last month, even as cases increased there, and British Airways and Virgin Atlantic airlines made mask wearing optional unless the destination required masks. Now other airlines are following suit and making masks optional on flights to the United States.
Responses to The Times’ question were often linked to personal circumstances: the elderly, parents of young children and those with relatives in ill health were particularly outraged by the lifting of the mandate, saying it would prevent them from seeing loved ones after they were separated for two years. Younger adults, including many young men who boast of their good health, were most outspoken in expressing their enthusiasm for ending the mandate, saying it would help bring life back to normal. And some said that lifting the rules was inevitable.
Resistance to masks had grown over time, even in tight quarters like airplanes and as cases of Omicron sub-variants started to ramp up across the country a month or so ago. While hospitalizations and deaths haven’t risen simultaneously – those indicators rather began rising a few weeks after the number of cases started to rise – the rise worried some readers responding to The Times. They called the judge’s decision “premature,” “political,” “unwise and irresponsible,” even “unreasonable.”
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” several wrote cautionary. Parents of young children expressed particular concern as children under the age of 5 are still ineligible for a vaccine and may not be available before the summer.
Ashley Eckstat, 35, a mother of three from Greensboro, NC, said she had hoped the mandate would remain in effect until Covid injections for the youngest children were approved.
“I just want to shout: the promise to go back to normal was dependent on vaccinations, and we still have a lot of vulnerable children,” said Ms Eckstat. “We are only as protected as our least protected family member.”
Others who had boarded or made travel plans on the understanding that there was a mask mandate said they were outraged when the rules changed mid-flight. John Barcelo, 81, a retired law professor, had flown to California with his wife to visit their son and his family and had deliberately booked a return flight on a date when the mask mandate was still supposed to be in effect – Monday, April 18 .
But as they flew from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport to their home in New Orleans, the mandate was scrapped and American Airlines announced it no longer needed masks. Some of the passengers cheered, but Mr. Barcelo and his wife felt trapped—and vulnerable.
“All these people took off their masks and didn’t think about anyone else at all, just themselves,” he recalls. “What’s so taxing about wearing a mask for Piet’s sake?”
American Airlines did not respond to questions about the rule change.
But many travelers said masks were a nuisance and it’s “time to move on.” They doubted the effectiveness of masks. Now that vaccines were available and some treatments had been developed for Covid, they said the virus posed no great risk and there were other risks to life.
“There are risks to driving and walking on the street,” says Kelly Johnson, 62, an education consultant from southeastern Virginia who travels by plane for work. She said she would adhere to all masking rules in place but that, at this point, “the risks with Covid are so low that people should have the choice to wear a mask or not.”
Chris Stapleton, 40, of Miami, whose doctor told him he had the “health of an 18-year-old,” said most people didn’t wear high-quality masks and didn’t wear them well anyway, and that people with conditions like cancer don’t wear masks. could continue to wear to protect themselves.
Peter Ciopryna, on the other hand, has a woman who was recently diagnosed with lupus and is taking drugs that suppress the immune system. Mr Ciopryna, a 62-year-old truck driver from Branford, Conn., said, “No one cares about immunocompromised people. She lives in constant fear.”
A sense of sadness and disappointment permeated many reactions as Americans complained that the nation is so deeply polarized and ideologically divided that no consensus could be reached for the greater good.
“There is no longer a real sense of community responsibility in this country,” said Rev. Chip Lee, 74, an Episcopal priest in Garrett County, Maryland. “Part of the argument boils down to, ‘No one is going to tell me what to do. do with my body.’ But we don’t all live in our own cocoons.”
Still, some individuals who lost loved ones to Covid were ready to take off their masks.
Jackie Wammock, 60, of Aiken, SC, lost her mother to the virus last year, but she had Covid herself and has recovered. “My fear of illness isn’t that great,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t wear a mask unless she had symptoms suggestive of illness. In that case, she said, “There is a responsibility to others.”
Some people said they would keep their masks on and keep traveling. Others said they would cancel plans to attend graduations and other family events. Mr Barcelo was one of many who said they would ride rather than fly this summer if they could. Emerald North, a 71-year-old painter and sculptor from Cochiti Lake, NM, said she would be willing to drive long distances — up to 1,000 miles — to avoid flying.
Some who can afford it said they would upgrade to first class or business class to ensure greater social distancing on planes and trains.
Others change their plans. dr. Ellen Tabor, a New York City physician who works at a nonprofit, dropped plans for a trip to Italy to minimize her risk of exposure. Instead, she vacations in Columbia County, NY.
“Masks are a small burden,” said Dr. tabor. “The virus is a big one.”