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Mask Politics

Susan Estrich on

If you're reading this on an airplane, or even in an Uber, you may or may not be wearing a mask. That's because a single federal judge sitting in Florida has declared invalid the national mask mandate applicable to all instruments of transportation as well as transportation hubs. We're talking planes, trains, automobiles (for hire), airports, bus stations, and subway stops.

Why? Because, she says, it exceeds federal authority.

What was most surprising about her decision was the response. White House press secretary Jen Psaki called it "disappointing" but didn't promise an immediate appeal, and neither did anyone else. The government, we were told, was studying the decision.

Don't hold your breath.

After two years of being told that government was following the science, even when it clearly wasn't, we have reached the point where the only thing that's clear about COVID-19 is the politics. People are sick of masks. They can make breathing difficult and voting downright dangerous, at least for those who support mask mandates.

And enforcement? The minute the flight attendants tell you that you can take off your mask to drink water, the game begins. Remove and sip. Sorry, I was sipping. The sipping patrol is not why anyone signed up to be a flight attendant. You can't sip your way across the country, I've been told. Actually, you can -- but then you'll have to go to the bathroom, another COVID-19 travel challenge that we've learned to face.

 

But should you? Until Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was saying we should keep our masks on to protect ourselves and others.

A federal judge with no specialized training says we can take them off.

Who should you listen to? Both the Justice Department and the CDC declined comment on Monday on the judge's decision. How ridiculously unhelpful. On Tuesday, the Justice Department said it was waiting for further guidance from the CDC. Join the club. The president said it was up to the individual. The governor of Florida, not surprisingly, praised the decision, proving once again that conservative disdain for judicial activism readily gives way to ideological correctness.

United Airlines, in a statement, said masks would no longer be required on most of its flights, freeing flight attendants from the sometimes difficult task of enforcing the mandate. "While this means that our employees are no longer required to wear a mask -- and no longer have to enforce a mask requirement for most of the flying public -- they will be able to wear masks if they choose to do so, as the CDC continues to strongly recommend wearing a mask on public transit," United said.

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