In the normal course of human affairs, this shouldn’t be a controversial decision. If, for example, a new blizzard is forecast just as we cleaned up from the last one, public opinion doesn’t rally around the notion of ignoring experts’ advice. We listen, accept the judgment knowing it has a chance to be wrong — and then get out the snow shovels.
Heightening the emotion around masks, however, is a different situation: Air travel is a microcosm of community life. We are all in this together. Literally. Scrunched together in a cabin, it is evident that how we behave can and does affect those nearby. Quickly.
Nothing is private; everything is shared — even the filtered air. Out of deference to those around us, we stifle our whining to airline staff, minimize our scoots past neighbors for a stroll in the aisle, resist doing jumping jacks or — most especially — try our very best to avoid coughing, because all of this can affect others in our little inescapable airplane community.
The country has slid into “move on from Covid-19” mode, embracing the magical thinking that, by ignoring the virus, it will go away, misconstruing our collective fatigue as an indication of finality. And the airplane tantrum reports, however despicable, are demoralizing somehow — clear-cut evidence of a tattered social fabric. The path to a quieter summer — at least in newspaper headlines — is to look the other way and hope nothing disastrous happens.
In this regard, it is unlikely that the wrong decision — rescinding the mask mandate too soon — will lead to any major health crisis. Yes, cases will increase, but with each new Covid-19 wave, believers in masks and vaccines have become shrewder as individuals and as a society at juggling safety and risk in our daily life.
Plus, we have a pretty good level of community immunity and lots of vaccine and/or disease-induced protection against severe disease and death. The decision by the CDC will not send us back to square one.