Story at a glance
- On Monday, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle overturned the Biden administration’s mask mandate for public travel.
- Shortly after, most major airlines scrapped their mask mandates for staff and passengers.
- Many health experts though are encouraging travelers, especially those with children, to continue to wear a mask.
U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle based in Tampa, Fla., struck down the Biden administration’s mandate on Monday requiring that all passengers on trains, buses and planes wear face masks.
As a result, a number of major U.S. airlines including American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines dropped their mask requirements. JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Allegiant Airlines all said they would make mask wearing optional on their flights.
The move has garnered pushback from many health professionals who worry that the policy will worsen the spread of the virus and will place more Americans — especially those who have yet to be vaccinated or are too young to be inoculated — at higher risk of contracting the virus. At the same, some of the nation’s leading public health experts argue that masks aren’t necessary given the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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“We’ve just come out of a holiday weekend with Easter and Passover and plenty of people getting together with family members and friends,” said Jessica Justman, associate professor of medicine in epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “I am concerned that that is going to take BA.2 and light a match under it.”
Changing America spoke with three health experts — two physicians and a director of a pediatric nurse practitioner program — about what the shift in mask policy means for parents traveling with children, and what they can do to keep themselves and their kids safe while flying.
If they are old enough, get your children vaccinated.
There is currently no COVID-19 vaccine that has been approved for children under the age of 5, but health officials recommend that everyone, including children who are eligible, get inoculated against the virus to lower the chances of developing serious illness from COVID-19.
Between December and February, hospitalization rates for children between the ages of 5 and 11 due to COVID-19 were twice as high among unvaccinated kids compared to vaccinated children, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, experts say getting vaccinated is one part of the larger strategy to mitigate an individual’s risk of infection, one that can also include wearing a mask.
“The recommendation all along has been not to rely solely on vaccination to protect you, but to include other layers of protection as long as the virus is actively circulating around you,” Bruce Y. Lee, professor of health policy and management at the City University of New York’s School of Public Health. “So that’s the concern, that you really are down to either one or no layers of protection for many people.”
Consider whether air travel is necessary at all
Lee also warned that the upcoming weeks are going to be “a challenging time to fly” now that face masks are no longer mandatory on airplanes.
For parents, Lee recommends that they consider whether taking a plane is even necessary for their travel.
“It’s probably better to avoid flights if you can, so if you can drive somewhere you should opt for that rather than taking a flight,” said Lee.
Parents with immunocompromised children or children with an underlying health condition that increases their risk of becoming seriously ill after contracting COVID-19 should consider whether air travel is necessary more so.
Wear a mask anyway, and have your children wear masks too
Most likely, planes are going to be filled with a mix of people wearing masks and those not wearing masks. And parents traveling with children over the age of 2 should try to make sure their kids wear a mask while at the airport or in a plane. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that it is safe for children over the age of 2 to wear a face mask.
Donna Hallas, director of the pediatric nurse practitioner program at New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing, recommends that everyone wear a face mask on planes or any form of public transportation where people are confined and where it’s unclear what the COVID-19 status and vaccination status is of others.
“I think that parents should be putting masks on their children,” Hallas said. “We don’t need your children getting sick.”
Try to maintain social distance while in the plane, if possible
Social distancing is naturally difficult to do on a plane where people are crammed together and are in a confined space for a long period of time. But Lee recommends for parents with children on flights that are less packed, to try to sit as far away from other people as possible or to sit in a window seat and lower the odds of coming into contact with more passengers walking up and down the aisle.
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