COVID-19

How are mask-wearing policies changing as U.S. COVID-19 cases spike?

Mitchell Hartman Jun 30, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Most airlines, for example, require masks in-flight, but only a few threaten to ban noncompliant passengers. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

How are mask-wearing policies changing as U.S. COVID-19 cases spike?

Mitchell Hartman Jun 30, 2020
Most airlines, for example, require masks in-flight, but only a few threaten to ban noncompliant passengers. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are spiking — from Florida and South Carolina, to Texas, Arizona, California and Washington. And the response from state officials is all over the map.

Washington’s governor just mandated all state residents wear masks in public. In Florida and Texas, that’s optional, so some local officials are mandating mask-wearing on their own.

All of this leaves consumers, and the businesses trying to serve them, confused.

Take Joely Gerber, for example. She is 27 and just finished her second year of law school — remotely — in New York.

She really wanted to fly home to LA this summer, but the coronavirus has made her reconsider.

“You know when you sit watching the news all day you get very freaked out — that it’s very easy to catch it, the numbers just keep going up,” Gerber said.

A lot of Americans face the same dilemma. They want to go places but feel safer staying home.

And, so far, hunkering down is winning. TSA passenger screenings have fallen 75% since last year, said Skift Airline Weekly editor Madhu Unnikrishnan.

“There’s still a significant number of people who say they just don’t feel comfortable jumping on an airplane,” Unnikrishnan said.

The main reason, he said: lax and inconsistent health and safety rules, for passengers and crew.

For instance, at LAX they’re starting to temperature-screen passengers.

“That’s not true at other airports. Most airports are recommending facial coverings, but not all are requiring them,” Unnikrishnan said.

Most airlines require masks in-flight, but only a few threaten to ban noncompliant passengers.

“Since there is no overarching law that requires these things, it’s up to us to find out. It’s just a hodgepodge and it’s just a mess,” Unnikrishnan said.

Businesses of all kinds are facing pretty much the same mess of overlapping federal, state and local guidelines. Meanwhile, they need to bring in customers, while keeping their employees safe from infection.

It’s kind of a minefield, said employment lawyer Lynne Anderson at Faegre Drinker.

“Even if a business has decided to require that all customers wear a mask, not all customers want to wear a mask,” Anderson said.

In the end, Gerber decided to fly home to LA.

“I felt like, I haven’t seen my family in a few months, ultimately I decided it was worth taking a calculated risk,” she said.

Everyone on the flight wore a mask. Gerber’s fine, and so are her 60-something parents.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

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