OPINION: This article contains commentary which may reflect the author's opinion
U.S. airline chief executives urged President Biden on Wednesday to cancel ‘outdated’ federal mask requirements on airplanes as well as the requirement for predeparture testing internationally.
‘Now is the time for the Administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions – including the international predeparture testing requirement and the federal mask mandate – that are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment,’ Airlines for America’s (A4A) Board of Directors wrote to the administration.
After the mandate was originally scheduled to end on March 18, Biden opted to extend it until April 18.
As the number of cases drops, it is unclear if the administration will continue the directive, or if the mandate will end in April after two years of disruption on flights due to mask requirements.
According to the letter: ‘It is critical to recognize that the burden of enforcing both the mask and predeparture testing requirements has fallen on our employees for two years now.’
‘This is not a function they are trained to perform and subjects them to daily challenges by frustrated customers. This in turn takes a toll on their own well-being.’
‘We are requesting this action not only for the benefit the (sic) of the traveling public,’ the letter adds, ‘but also for the thousands of airline employees charged with enforcing a patchwork of now-outdated regulations implemented in response to COVID-19.’
In their view, it makes no sense for Americans to be able to gather in other crowded environments on the ground without masks, but still be forced to wear them in the air.
A letter signed by the executives of Alaska Air Group, American Airlines, Atlas Air Worldwide, Delta Airlines, FedEx Express, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines Holdings, UPS Airlines, and Airlines for America demands that air travel precautions be changed.
Among the recipients of the letter were Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, Counselor to the President Steve Ricchetti, COVID Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients, and Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese.
In their view, immunity, optional masking, hospital-grade cabin air, abundant vaccine supply, and advancements in therapeutics ‘provide a strong foundation for the Administration to lift the mask mandate and predeparture testing requirements.’
‘We urge you to do so now.’
Aircraft cabins are among the safest indoor environments due to highly filtered air and continuous airflow, according to several studies on masking on flights.
‘The science clearly supports lifting the mask mandate, as demonstrated by the recently released [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] framework indicating that 99 percent of the U.S. population no longer need to wear masks indoors,’ the letter explains.
‘Lifting the mask mandate in airports and onboard aircraft can be done safely as England has done. Importantly,’ they added, ‘the effectiveness and availability of high-quality masks for those who wish to wear them gives passengers the ability to further protect themselves if they choose to do so.’
‘It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do.’
Johns Hopkins University data indicates that more than 6.1 million people have died from COVID-19 worldwide – nearly 1 million of them in the U.S.
Last week, Anthony Fauci backtracked on his hints that he may retire soon, asserting that the COVID pandemic is not yet over and that he may suggest bringing back restrictions.
A day after he said ‘I can’t stay in this job forever,’ Fauci seemed determined to stick around when asked on ABC’s This Week if he was thinking of leaving.
He replied: ‘I’m not so sure, George,’ the director of the National Health Institute told anchor George Stephonaupolous. ‘I want to make sure we’re really out of this before I really seriously consider doing anything different. We’re still in this.’
‘We have a way to go. I think we got clearly going in the right direction. I hope we stay that way,’ he continued.
.@GStephanopoulos: “Are we approaching the point where we are past the pandemic phase and you'll go get some rest?”
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) March 20, 2022
In a question on Saturday, Fauci was asked whether the country was finally ready to move on from the end of the COVID pandemic and if he intended on relaxing once this point in time has arrived.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Director also serves as Biden’s medical advisor
‘I have said that I would stay in what I’m doing until we get out of the pandemic phase, and I think we might be there already,’ he explained. ‘I don’t have any plans right now to go anywhere, but you never know. I can’t stay at this job forever.’
Over the course of his career, Fauci has advised every American president since Ronald Reagan, becoming the nation’s leading COVID expert, which drew criticism for how the nation handled the pandemic.
When he hinted that he might retire, he warned that easing restrictions, waning vaccine protection and the emergence of the BA.2 subvariant in the UK and elsewhere could lead to a new wave of COVID infections in the U.S.
According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. has seen about 10,918 new cases and 281 new deaths over the past day. Over a million new infections were occurring daily during the peak of the Omicron outbreak in the US.
In an interview with ABC, Fauci said the increase of the new variant, which has seen a spike in the UK, could cause a surge in the U.S. since it appears as infectious as Omicron, however, he added that a rise in hospitalizations and deaths would not result.
‘I would not be surprised if in the next few weeks we see somewhat of either a flattening of our diminution or maybe even an increase,’ he said, pointing out that the US is typically 2-3 weeks behind the UK when a spike in cases takes place.
‘Whether or not that is going to lead to another surge, a mini-surge or maybe even a moderate surge, is very unclear because there are a lot of other things that are going on right now.’
According to him, the rise could bring back COVID regulations, although he stated that it would be an uphill battle to put the laws back in place after states across the country lifted the regulations.