Covid-19 mask mandates and travel news: live updates

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Credit…Gabby Jones for The New York Times

Americans greeted the lifting of mask mandates on planes, trains, buses and public transit on Tuesday with a mixture of joy, relief and alarm, marking the abrupt end to a directive that was largely in place in various forms for nearly two years.

The Transportation Security Administration, airlines, transit officials and transportation providers began rolling back enforcement of the mask mandate after a federal judge ruled against the requirement on Monday. However, some transit agencies, including the MTA in New York, have said they will continue to require masks for now.

Airlines have been particularly responsive. The country’s 10 largest carriers have said they will drop enforcement of mask requirements by early Tuesday. Lyft and Uber quickly followed, saying they would stop requiring passengers and drivers in the United States to wear masks, but both companies said local regulations would supersede their own rules.

Some airline passengers received the news at airports or in flight, sharing celebratory photos and videos on social media. This elation has been accompanied by the nervousness and fear of others who fear that the end of the term will increasingly expose them and their loved ones to the coronavirus, as a new variant increases the number of cases. in the USA.

On Monday afternoon, Peter Shankman, 49, boarded a United Airlines flight from Denver to Newark. Shortly after boarding, the pilot announced that masks were not mandatory, but that those who took them off should be respectful of those who kept them on. Most people around him continued to wear masks even after this announcement, but only a few put their blankets back on after eating.

“I kept mine on the whole plane,” he said.

Mr Shankman travels frequently for his work as a corporate speaker and has found that since he started wearing a mask he gets sick much less often. “I could go on,” he said, adding, “It’s a little piece of fabric; it’s not that embarrassing.

He is not alone. Support for the mask mandate had dwindled, but most Americans still support it, according to recent polls. At least 60% of adults favored keeping the mandate, according to a Harris poll conducted this month. The Morning Consult reported this month that a similar share of adults support a mask requirement, with those traveling over the next few months most likely to support the mandate.

It was not immediately clear what effect removing mask requirements would have on travel demand. Airlines are enjoying a robust rebound that has easily weathered the surge in cases caused by an Omicron variant and rising fares.

Last week, Delta announced March as its best sales month yet. It comes as domestic flight fares have risen 40% this year, from $235 for an average domestic round-trip flight, according to Hopper, an airfare tracker app. As of noon on Tuesday, Hopper said he had yet to detect a significant change in people looking for thefts.

For many flight attendants, the lifting of the warrant has brought relief. Flight crews have faced an upsurge in threats and violence from passengers over the past two years. In many cases, the rage is triggered by bellicose resistance to compliance with the mask mandate, which is enforced by flight crews on planes.

Credit…Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Of course, the science behind the mandate has not changed, and new known virus cases in the United States have started to rise again in recent days. On Monday, there were an average of more than 39,000 new cases per day, a 43% increase from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database.

Although the figure remains well below the peak of the winter surge caused by a variant of Omicron, experts believe that new cases are increasingly underestimated with the rise in home testing. Also, many people vaccinated and given booster shots did not become seriously ill after getting Omicron.

“Undoubtedly, masking helps,” said David Freedman, professor and president-elect of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

While airplanes are equipped with high-quality filtration systems and the air circulates often, Dr. Freedman noted that there are times when masking is particularly useful, including at the airport, at the gate, on the airlift and in the front plane the engines are running and drawing fresh air into the cabin.

“Air travel is a continuum of activity, it’s not just about sitting in your seat on the plane,” Dr Freedman said, adding that he plans to continue wearing an N95 mask. .

Although masks are most effective when everyone is wearing one, individuals can still benefit from being the only person in a crowd wearing one.

Adel Hassan contributed report.

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