Time To Mask Up On Planes Again?

We’re entering another Covid wave. Peak will probably come in mid-January. In the meantime there’s a lot more Covid in the U.S. We can see that in case numbers, but most cases go undetected. Perhaps the best data source is wastewater measures.

The good news is that hospitalizations and deaths no longer follow the way they used to. Infection fatality has declined markedly. Some of that is because the virus itself has become less deadly as it spreads faster. Some of it is because of background immunity, both from vaccination and higher infection, that at least primes the immune system even if it only reduces the likelihood of getting sick. And some of it is because so many of the most vulnerable people have already died.

Bottom-line, Covid-19 is with us and rising again, but it’s no longer as dangerous. Masking isn’t required on public transportation any longer in the U.S., however the CDC is back to recommending masking. Most people won’t listen.

Indeed, most of the masks I do see in airports and on planes are cloth or cheap paper masks. That I do not understand.

  • Low quality masks made sense as a strategy to meet the requirements in place without providing protection.

  • If you’re going to mask when it’s not required, the whole point seems like actual protection so you should wear a good mask.

Still, the CDC’s point – which seems right – is that you can protect yourself and others (from you) not just from Covid-19 but also flu and RSV which are spreading at high levels as well.

Long before the pandemic I wanted to wear masks on planes, the way it’s been common in Asia for years, as a way of avoiding the flu when that’s prevalent. I just hate getting sick. I don’t like feeling sick and I don’t have time for the reduced productivity it brings. I do feel like I have social permission to do so now.

I’m not particularly high risk for Covid-19. I’ve had it once, I didn’t love it, but it was fine. I’m up to date on my boosters. And if I get it again I’ll tell my doctor I want Paxlovid, just in case.

I still carry N95, KN95, and KF94 masks in my laptop bag. Maybe it’s time to put one on again in crowded indoor spaces when frankly I’m not looking for any kind of social interaction anyway?

To be clear I see little reason to mandate masks. That’s because

  • delaying infection has little public health benefit to the extent that we’re not using that as a bridge to vaccines and better treatments
  • we’re not currently facing a collapsing health care system the way we risked one at other points during the pandemic.
  • Instead I see it as a personal choice to protect oneself, either as someone especially vulnerable or just because it sucks worse to get sick than to wear a mask. I wouldn’t wear one inflight in a premium cabin on a transoceanic trip, by the way. Relative risk is lower, and personal cost to wearing one higher, than just in the airport or during boarding and deplaning.

    Is masking up for flu, RSV, and Covid during peaks something you would consider?

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