Today’s Star Tribune runs an editorial lamenting Judge Mizelle’s decision holding the federal transportation mask mandate illegal. Star Tribune editorial editor and vice president Scott Gillespie circulated it by email this morning. He must be proud of the editors’ handiwork.
The editorial runs to 610 words. Lest you think my brief comments below unfair, I present it in its entirety verbatim:
A question for those celebrating the end of the air travel mask mandate:
Why stop there?
There’s a still a tyrannical smoking ban on board. And airport security also continues to require outrageous compromises on individual liberty. Shouldn’t it be up to travelers to choose what items they carry on? And that removing-your-shoes routine, not to mention business travelers having to pull laptops out of cases, is so inconvenient.
Those who want to take these precautions should do so. But everyone else should be free to do their own risk analysis and decide what’s best, right?
If readers didn’t catch the sarcasm and frustration in the preceding sentences, now’s the time to make that clear. The Star Tribune Editorial Board doesn’t support the “let-‘er-rip” approach to travelers’ health and safety described above. But follow the logic behind the irresponsible glee some displayed over the mask mandate’s demise on Monday, and this is where it inevitably goes.
The problem should be painfully clear. How well would current safeguards against onboard terrorism work, for example, if there were voluntary checks for weapons or other harmful items in carry-on bags?
The same principle applies to the smoking ban. Sure, airlines filter in-flight air. Those concerned about secondhand smoke could bring personal filtering devices on board for added safety. Nevertheless, passengers would still smell and inhale harmful smoke, even if just one person lit up.
Protections against onboard harm work best when everyone complies, not just when some do. That’s why the end of the air travel mask mandate is a serious public health setback as the pandemic continues and alarms grow over rising case numbers and new, more transmissible variants.
Last week, the Biden administration extended masking for public transportation at least through May 3, a prudent call given rising cases and an unacceptably high number of daily deaths. But on Monday, a federal judge, a Trump appointee with dubious qualifications, struck down this requirement.
The Transportation Security Administration announced soon after that it would no longer enforce masking. Many airlines and airports, including Minneapolis-St. Paul, have decided against individually requiring masks. Metro Transit also said Tuesday that riders can forgo masks.
COVID-19 is an airborne pathogen, with the ability to waft through an indoor space the same way as secondhand smoke. Masks aren’t a 100% guarantee against spread, but they were one of the few remaining protections in prime conditions for viral transmission.
Air travel brings people together from around the world and has them sitting close together in a confined, indoor space. Then, they disperse into the community after arrival. Most people only fly a few hours out of the year, but the sheer number of people flying and the ease with which this virus can spread on board and at crowded gates make it problematic to dispense with one of last remaining preventive steps — masking.
After some uncertainty early Tuesday, the Biden administration announced that it will appeal the judge’s ruling if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decides that extending the mask requirement is necessary. That’s the right call.
The nation’s top health officials should also be forcefully urging Americans to continue making the individual choice to keep masking on planes and other public transportation. The public needs to hear more from CDC head Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the U.S. Surgeon General and leading medical organizations such as the American Medical Association.
To be clear, we’re not arguing for a forever mask mandate. But when U.S. cases have risen 43% over the past 14 days, and an average of 425 people are dying every day, a targeted travel mask mandate is eminently reasonable. Tossing aside one of the last remaining pandemic safeguards is reckless.
Herewith 10 observations in the form of bullet points:
• The editorial omits any account of the decision or any argument that Judge Mizelle got it wrong.
• In lieu of an argument the editorial substitutes an ad hominem insult of the judge. Her qualifications stand up with the qualifications of the Star Tribune editorial board.
• The editorial assumes that passengers can protect themselves if through the use of masks if they think masks offer protection. However, this isn’t enough for some unstated reason.
• “A targeted travel mask mandate is eminently reasonable” is pure assertion. I say it is eminently stupid.
• The reliance on cases and deaths per day doesn’t cut it. The virus is endemic.
• They say it’s not a forever mask mandate, but if “cases” and “deaths” support the mandate now, they will forever.
• In lieu of an argument criticizing the merits of Judge Mizelle’s decision, the Star Tribune cluck-clucks its disapproval of our attitude. We have a bad attitude.
• The Star Tribune seconds the Biden administration’s punt to the CDC. Woo hoo! Last week the CDC asserted the mandate was necessary. Nothing has changed but the sigh of relief heard ’round the land. It is that sigh of relief of which the Star Tribune disapproves.
• The logic chopping in these 610 words is pervasive. Every point supporting the editorial is pure assertion.
• See John Tierney’s “Maskaholics.” The Star Tribune editors — they’re suffering from “mask dependency.”
Long story short, as they say. The Star Tribune’s verbose glop stands in for the more concise wisdom of the Captain in Cool Hand Luke: “You gonna get your mind right.”