This week, a federal court judge in Florida — a Trump appointee who was deemed unqualified for the job by the American Bar Association — made a shockingly broad ruling in a local case that scuttled federal mask mandates on public transportation throughout the United States.
There was a bit of a ho-hum reaction to the judge’s action since those mandates, aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, were winding down anyway. Nevertheless, the ruling still should be challenged lest it block the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from imposing another lifesaving masking requirement the next time there is a pandemic flare-up.
On the plus side, maybe this will calm the rage of anti-mask zealots who travel on the nation’s airlines. During the two-plus years that Americans have lived (and died) with COVID-19, there has been a massive increase in the number of dangerous, disruptive incidents on airplanes. Flight attendants have been bullied and beaten up by incensed passengers who have gotten so frenzied and violent that, in many cases, they have had to be tackled and restrained with duct tape. At least half of these cases involved people who refused to wear a mask.
Despite the fact that modern jets have highly effective air-filtration systems that significantly lower the chance of disease transmission, the risk is not eliminated entirely. While the airplane sits at the gate or taxis on the runway, the air inside is compromised. At any point in a flight, if a symptomatic person is sitting close by, the diseased droplets they are expelling with every breath may get to an unmasked person before the filtration system can do its job.
So, mandate or not, it is still not a bad idea to wear a mask when flying. It is not hard to imagine, though, that any knuckleheads who were heretofore inclined to bite and punch fellow travelers to protest the mask mandate may not suddenly learn manners. Be prepared for taunts if you are wearing a mask. Keep your cool in the face of arrogant stupidity and remind yourself that, if that mask keeps you from being sick when you arrive at your destination, mockery is a small burden to bear.
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