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Should Airlines Be Allowed To Drop The Mask Mandate?

Mask mandates in the United States are rapidly approaching what may be their last frontier: transportation. The law requiring masks on aircraft, airports, and other modes of public transportation is scheduled to expire in less than a month. And if US airlines have any say in the matter, it may come sooner.

Airlines such as Delta, American, United, and Southwest, as well as cargo carriers and the industry group Airlines for America, are all advocating for the mask rule on public transit and the pre-travel testing requirement for overseas arrivals to the United States to be removed. Indeed, Delta Air Lines Chief Health Officer Henry Ting said that he believes that the federal mask mandate for airports and airplanes will be lifted on “April 18th or shortly thereafter.” Ting stated that while he does not know for sure if the requirement will be repealed on April 18, the CDC, TSA, and White House are all "looking closely at this" and would "certainly provide a roadmap" at CNBC's Healthy Returns event on Wednesday.

On some flights, mask arguments have erupted, and flight attendants have faced unprecedented levels of hostility in enforcing the federal law. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the nation's biggest flight attendants union, has not taken a position on removing the mask rule, claiming that it has members on both sides of the debate. Yet, the flight attendants' union at Southwest Airlines has urged for the regulation to be repealed.

After two crippling years of the pandemic, many in the travel business are naturally keen to make it as simple as possible for more people to go on the road. Travelers may still protect themselves, and the laws may be loosened gradually or reintroduced if the number of incidents increases significantly. After nearly two months of decreases, cases in the United States have recently plateaued, and health officials are keeping a careful check on the BA.2 Omicron variety.

However, how do doctors and disease transmission specialists see the repeal of Covid precautions? For one thing, it's not all or nothing.

Lift The Rules for Vaccinated Travellers, One Doctor Suggests

CNN medical commentator Dr. Leana Wen believes that eliminating both the mask requirements and the pre-travel testing requirement for overseas arrivals makes sense - for vaccinated passengers. Allowing fully vaccinated persons to avoid the restrictions provides them with an additional incentive to be vaccinated, according to Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health.

While the airlines' letter to the White House did not specifically mention vaccinated travellers, it did cite a World Health Organization recommendation for a risk-based approach that includes "lifting measures, including such testing and/or quarantine requirements for individual travellers who are fully vaccinated."

Currently, regardless of citizenship or vaccination status, all passengers entering the United States must have a negative result from a test taken within one day after leaving. Wen believes that removing the restriction is the most urgent and "right step" that could be made for fully vaccinated travellers.

Masks should be made optional

For Dr. William Schaffner, it seems logical to lift both the masking and pre-travel testing procedures right now. "I mean if there's a reason not to do it, let's hear it," said Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

According to Schaffner, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has modified the parameters that determine its masking recommendations within the United States, and some medical experts find a contradiction when it comes to maintaining tighter travel guidelines.

Continue to exercise caution and care

Dr. Richard Dawood, a travel health specialist based in London, is more cautious about removing testing and mask restrictions.

The United Kingdom, where cases have lately increased due to the BA.2 subvariant, has already abandoned vaccine, testing, and quarantine restrictions for visitors, and numerous airlines have recently put an end to mask laws – at least for places without their own mask mandates.

"If you are traveling long haul, it's quite reassuring to be on a flight where you know people have had a pre-departure test," Dawood said.

Traveling at this time should be undertaken with caution and attention, he said. Even while the chances of becoming dangerously ill and ending up in the hospital while on vacation are remote, becoming unwell might drastically ruin your holiday.

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