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
Share Now on:
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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

Will the federal government extend the extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

It’s still unclear. Congress and President Donald Trump are deciding whether to extend the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits workers are getting because of the pandemic. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia believes the program should not be extended, and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the additional money is disincentivizing some workers from returning to their jobs. Democrats want to keep providing the money until January.

As states lift restrictions, are people going back to stores and restaurants?

States have relaxed their restrictions, and many of us have relaxed, too. Some people have started to make exceptions for visiting restaurants, if only for outdoor dining. Some are only going to places they trust are being extra cautious. But no one we’ve talked to has really gone back to normal. People just aren’t quite there yet.

Will surges in COVID-19 cases mean a return to lockdowns?

In many areas where businesses are reopening, cases of COVID-19 are trending upwards, causing some to ask if the lockdowns were lifted too soon, and if residents and businesses might have to go through it all again. So, how likely is another lockdown, of some sort? The answer depends on who you ask. Many local officials are now bullish about keeping businesses open to salvage their economies. Health experts, though, are concerned.

You can find answers to more questions here.

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