When a federal judge in Florida struck down the federal transportation mask mandate in April, airlines and airports dropped their mask-wearing policies faster than you can say “omicron variant.” But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention never dropped its recommendation that travelers wear masks during air travel.
“At this time, for people aged 2 years or older—including passengers and workers—CDC recommends properly wearing a well-fitting mask or respirator over the nose and mouth in indoor areas of public transportation (such as airplanes, trains, buses, ferries) and transportation hubs (such as airports, stations, and seaports),” says the agency website.
It is “especially important” to wear a mask in crowded transportation hubs and in enclosed spaces, such as airport jetways, and “when the Covid-19 Community Level in the area you are located in is high,” according to the CDC.
That designation of high Covid transmission is currently present in more than a third of the counties across the country.
At this time, 1,143 counties — 35% of the country — are now experiencing high levels of transmission. In another 40% of counties, the Covid-19 Community Level is medium, leaving just 25% of counties with low levels of spread.
Health experts warn that the U.S. is entering another wave of Covid infections. Just this month, the highly transmissible BA.5 omicron subvariant became the dominant coronavirus strain in the country. Meanwhile, a recent study spelled out the dangers of repeated infections, finding that two or more Covid-19 reinfections double the risk for death, blood clots, and lung damage.
All of Florida and much of California, Alabama, South Carolina are currently experiencing high or medium levels of Covid transmission. As of now, the Northeast, including New England, is experiencing the lowest levels of spread in the country, followed by the upper Midwest.
Within two weeks of the demise of the federal mask mandate, Covid-19 infections jumped 50% among Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees, from 359 workers with active infections reported on April 18, the day the mandate ended, to 542 employees testing positive for Covid on May 2.
How many infections is the agency seeing these days? “We are no longer publicly providing this data,” a TSA spokesperson said via email. “[Transportation Security Officer] infection rates mirror the rates around the country.”
Whether health authorities in areas of high transmission choose to re-implement indoor mask mandates often depends on the politics of who is in charge. On Thursday, Los Angeles County reached a high level of COVID-19 infections, which could mean an impending return to a mask mandate, reports the Los Angeles Times.