Monday afternoon, airline passengers whooped and hollered when flight crews informed them the federal mask mandate was finally over. Crews and passengers responded to the news by ripping off masks mid-flight. Most commercial airlines and Amtrak quickly followed suit to drop their masking policies, as did rideshare services Uber and Lyft. Airlines "were urging that the mandate be lifted sooner," said Dr. Andrew Bostom, clinical trial epidemiologist at Brown University.
The president who promised to shut down the virus has a strange way of showing it. "Had he been smart, Joe Biden could have owned that glee," notedNational Review's Charles Cooke. "Instead, it came in spite of him, courtesy of a Republican-appointed judge." White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called the decision "disappointing" but when asked why airplane cabins should be subjected to harsher rules than the White House briefing room, she could only retort lamely, "I'm not a doctor. You're not a doctor." Who knew advanced medical degrees were required to form opinions on questions of law, justice, and public policy?
Meanwhile on "Washington Watch," Bostom, who is a doctor, laid out the science. Since 2008, 14 studies (12 for influenza and two for COVID) have used randomized, controlled trials, which are "the gold standard [for] evidence," to study whether "mass masking is an intervention which works" for airborne viruses. Bostom said the results of those studies are "uniformly negative." Nevertheless, "public health authorities have managed to push through mandates," he continued, essentially turning "the whole evidence-based paradigm on its head."
Other science opposing the mask mandate concerns the airplanes themselves, which are armed with "highly efficient filtration systems" and "biocidal technology to kill a virus," explained Bostom. For comparison, "in a restaurant, the air may recirculate through a filter about every 15 minutes. In an airplane, that's every 30 seconds," said Ken Klukowski, the attorney representing FRC Action in its own lawsuit against the mask mandate. According to a Defense Department study conducted last year, he said, "it would take 54 hours on an airplane to get infected" with COVID -- three times longer than the world's longest flight.
However, the basic question in the judge's opinion was legal, not scientific. Klukowski explained, "the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)... sets forth the requirements that agencies need to meet when they're putting legal obligations or restrictions on you and me." "A broad body of Supreme Court precedent" holds administrative agencies to a standard of "reasoned decision making," which the judge found was not met. Thus, "forcing people to wear masks on airplanes meets the definition of what the law calls arbitrary and capricious.... The judge did the right thing," Klukowski concluded.
The mask mandate was soundly thumped by the gavel, but it's not quite dead yet. The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced plans to appeal, "subject to CDC's conclusion that the order remains necessary for public health." Of course, given the CDC's preference for political science, they may calculate that opposing the overwhelming weight of medical data is worth it to ingratiate the president with his base. The White House's continued insistence on encouraging mask-wearing is "consistent with their zealotry, but it's not consistent with the data," noted Bostom, nor "with the desires, as you can see by the popular reaction, of the vast swath of the population."
However, the DOJ has avoided requesting a temporary stay on the ruling, an unusual move which allows the judge's decision to remain in effect for now. That could indicate the DOJ is tired of getting pummeled in court and wants to rest its sore ribs, that they expect to lose on appeal, and that they're only appealing on their doubly-boosted boss's orders. So too, the CDC could, as it has done before, stick its finger into the political winds and then "discover" that "the science has changed."
In the meantime, honest citizens won't get kicked off a plane because they can't keep a two-year-old's mask on, or struggle to read a book that's half obscured by a cloth mask serving only to virtue-signal. Americans can board their flights with all the comfort their economy-class ticket allows. You are now free to breathe about the country.