Ending mask rule on planes would kill people

Ending mask rule on planes would kill people

Posted: Jul 23, 2021 5:41 PM
Updated: Jul 23, 2021 5:41 PM

Over the last 18 months, the story of the pandemic in the United States has steadily evolved, from rising terror as the virus took hold, to a long winter of anguish and then to profound relief as a scientific triumph-- vaccines!-- arrived and did their job amazingly well. But then the story shifted again, darkly, as the Delta variant thwarted our happy ending, largely because of vaccine refuseniks in about a third of the country.

Covid-19's latest resurgence means we are stuck, unable to escape our national squabbling about masks and shots, mandates and protocols. We are about to restart a particularly bitter battle over public travel -- what to do about trains, planes, boats, buses and subways.

The travel issue seems to have no chance at resolution. It's public health 101 re-worked into the same old tiresome political shout-fest of right versus left, individual freedom versus social responsibility, I don't have to clean my room versus yes you do. If I believe my wearing a mask helps only you, not me, either because I am already vaccinated or I think the whole Covid-19 thing is overblown, how should I behave? Is the masked life worth living?

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is once again being pressed by Republicans to consider easing mandates for masks and social distancing when traveling. In the get-tough words offered by Texas Senator Ted Cruz recently, "It's long past time for President Biden and the CDC to follow the science."

You bet it is. But the actual science is real and it's spectacularly in opposition to Senator Cruz's Rambo claims. Indeed, there is scientific data galore that demonstrates risk when using public transportation and additional data that supports masks and distancing.

The most thorough and compelling study on this was published a year ago. The authors set out to define who was at risk for Covid-19 while traveling in China on high-speed trains. Starting with 2,334 people who were known to have ridden the train while infected, they used information from the China State Railway Group to see how many of their 72,093 fellow riders during the three- month study period also got Covid-19.

Because of the quality of the data available (it helps to have a surveillance state for a public-health investigation), the authors were able to quantify the risks of infection depending on where you sat on the train and how long you rode.

Overall, the authors found that among those sitting to the immediate left or right of someone with Covid-19, one in 30 developed infection, a rate 18 times higher than the other tens of thousands of travelers. Those in front of and behind infected passengers also had an elevated risk, though not as high. The authors also showed that longer trips are riskier, raising transmission rates 0.15% an hour. They even produced a simple "heat map" of how proximity and duration affect the risk of catching Covid-19 on a train.

The science is clear: public travel increases your risk. Yes, it's true that air filtration and circulation on various forms of transportation aren't exactly the same as on a high-speed train from China. And the China study was conducted before the Delta variant took hold. But the fact remains: sitting next to a Covid- infected person carries risk, and the longer you are seatmates, the higher the risk.

The effectiveness of masks and social distancing similarly has been well shown to lower the risk of catching the infection. The studies are endless and all point one direction -- though not the direction Sen. Cruz seems to think.

In other words, unless you know your seatmate has been vaccinated, you don't want to sit next to them without a mask, no matter how fascinating you find them. And since at least 40% of the US is not vaccinated and the wing-footed Delta virus is wreaking havoc across the country, your risk of having an infected neighbor is real.

The push to pressure the CDC to lift mask restrictions is likely borne not of a desire to follow the science, but rather to make experts across the government seem indecisive, as if changing recommendations were the product of a bloated bureaucracy that only knows how to send weaselly memos. It's a familiar refrain: big government is screwing up again!

This latest "discussion" about restrictions is completely irrelevant at this moment in the pandemic. After so many arguments and so many lives lost, there is only one salient fact and it is not debatable.

Vaccination works. Refusal to be vaccinated is endangering the health and well-being of the public. We are at a moment of historic cruelty, when some Republicans are deliberately scaring people away from a medical breakthrough that will save their lives. And this, not the pandemic itself or the scientific response to it, likely will be what historians puzzle over in the decades ahead.

The-CNN-Wire
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Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 498560

Reported Deaths: 9939
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34150535
DeSoto31916399
Hinds31878624
Jackson24352379
Rankin21928388
Lee15450235
Madison14547279
Jones13789241
Forrest13428250
Lauderdale11944315
Lowndes10966185
Lamar10491135
Pearl River9454237
Lafayette8462138
Hancock7703126
Washington7371157
Oktibbeha7118130
Monroe6740174
Warren6656176
Pontotoc6620102
Neshoba6613206
Panola6466131
Marshall6398132
Bolivar6268146
Union596794
Pike5794152
Alcorn5646101
Lincoln5421134
George494979
Scott471198
Tippah466081
Prentiss464881
Leflore4631144
Itawamba4605105
Adams4577119
Tate4553109
Copiah445692
Simpson4423116
Yazoo440386
Wayne438572
Covington427894
Marion4222107
Sunflower4217104
Coahoma4127104
Leake407687
Newton381079
Grenada3700108
Stone358764
Tishomingo358091
Attala330589
Jasper328565
Winston313491
Clay306775
Chickasaw297867
Clarke290694
Calhoun278145
Holmes267287
Smith262450
Yalobusha232847
Tallahatchie225851
Walthall217763
Greene216048
Lawrence211440
Perry204855
Amite204055
Webster201845
Noxubee185940
Montgomery179356
Jefferson Davis170942
Carroll168238
Tunica159039
Benton147538
Kemper141341
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131637
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106328
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 814363

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1141131910
Mobile722941323
Madison52048686
Shelby37315341
Baldwin37098540
Tuscaloosa34973599
Montgomery33996725
Lee23158240
Calhoun22168470
Morgan20675372
Etowah19770496
Marshall18258300
Houston17314405
St. Clair15924337
Cullman15333290
Limestone15239198
Elmore15095284
Lauderdale14163294
Talladega13728272
DeKalb12575259
Walker11096366
Blount10104174
Autauga9904146
Jackson9795180
Coffee9182189
Dale8866181
Colbert8794200
Tallapoosa7045195
Escambia6747127
Covington6688179
Chilton6595160
Russell626358
Franklin5936105
Chambers5562142
Marion4960126
Dallas4897199
Clarke473482
Pike4721105
Geneva4564126
Winston4478101
Lawrence4269117
Bibb421786
Barbour356075
Marengo334189
Monroe330662
Randolph327763
Butler324894
Pickens314082
Henry311265
Hale309487
Cherokee300557
Fayette291079
Washington251151
Cleburne247058
Crenshaw243775
Clay240867
Macon230762
Lamar218146
Conecuh185752
Coosa179038
Lowndes174161
Wilcox167838
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131138
Greene125844
Choctaw87027
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