Midlands travelers at CAE, infectious disease expert react to extension of federal mask mandate

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Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 8:00 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 14, 2022 at 8:36 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The federal transportation mask mandate, initially set to expire on Monday, is now extended another 15 days to May 3. This includes all public transit: airports, planes, trains, and buses.

At the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, the reaction from travelers is mixed.

“I’m comfortable wearing the mask,” Donna Delahaye, who was in Columbia to see her nephew graduate from Fort Jackson, said. “I feel safer wearing the mask.”

Some said they’re over masking.

“I just hate wearing the thing,” Sumter native Tyler Oswald said. “It hurts my ears.”

Others are indifferent.

And a few people said they would probably still mask up on planes even if the mandate were lifted.

“I’m so used to it now that I think I would wear it,” Maria Teresa Jarquin said.

Jarquin was visiting family in the Midlands, but lives in New York City, where COVID-19 cases are spiking.

She welcomes the extension.

“It has been put on for a reason and the reason is to save lives,” Jarquin said. “I wear my mask everywhere.”

According to the CDC, the mandate was extended due to the rise of the Omicron subvariant known as BA.2, which now accounts for more than 85 percent of cases nationally.

As it relates to masking, Oswald said, “There has to be an end in sight somewhere.”

Dr. Helmut Albrecht, an infectious disease specialist with Prisma Health, said in extending the mask requirement for travelers, the federal government chose what’s safe over what’s easier and more popular at this point in the pandemic.

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“The fact that they only extended it by a couple weeks shows that they’re also struggling with this question, right” he said.

While cases are down in South Carolina, spikes in the New York, Washington DC and parts of Europe indicate that there could be another uptick in cases soon, likely following spring break.

“We’re tired of the virus protective measures we can take, but the uptick in the Northeast shows that the virus is not yet done with us,” he said. “So this short extension will allow the feds to figure out whether this uptick in numbers also translates to an uptick in hospitalizations and deaths.”

Albrecht said it’s important to remain “vigilant” in the fight against COVID-19.

“It’s certainly a time where we can enjoy lower numbers and therefore lower risk,” he said. “There could be at any time a new variant that could escape all immunity rendered by vaccines or by previous infection and almost require a restart.”

The extension comes as CAE said passenger traffic through its airport was up more than 80 percent in the first few months of this year when compared with the same time last year.

“Passenger traffic has been consistently strong this first quarter of 2022 and we anticipate this steady increase month over month will continue as we head into the busy spring and summer months,” Mike Gula, CAE’s Executive Director, said. “We are seeing both personal and the long-awaited business travel return in great volumes – which is welcomed. We are not back to pre-pandemic numbers due to the air travel halt COVID-19 brought to airports around the world, but we have far surpassed early projections.”

Opposition to the mandate includes some travel and hospitality groups, including Airlines for America and the U.S. Travel Association.

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