The COVID-19 pandemic continues to dominate conversations, and an uptick in cases after a period of calm has experts once again considering what our future with COVID will look like. The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) largely attributes the current increase to the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron, which accounted for over 90 percent of cases in the U.S. as of April 16. Thankfully, while the case count is going up, it does not seem to be correlated with an increase in hospitalizations or severe disease, according to Anthony Fauci, MD, top White House COVID advisor. But Fauci says there are still precautions that all Americans—vaccinated or not—should consider.
RELATED: Dr. Fauci Warns All Vaccinated People Over 50 to Do This Right Now.
The need for masks on airplanes and public transportation has been a source of endless debate dating back to the early days of the pandemic. President Joe Biden put the federal mask mandate in place in Feb. 2021 (with major airlines enforcing masks since spring 2020), and the mandate has since been extended at least three times, per Reuters.
On April 13, the CDC extended the mandate once again, this time for an additional 15 days through May 3. While it was set to expire on April 18, the CDC made the call to extend due to the surge in COVID cases. However, on April 18, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled the CDC mask mandate was unlawful and that the organization had overstepped its authority, as reported by NPR. Following this ruling, it was announced that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) would no longer be enforcing the mandate on public transport or airplanes.
In an April 21 conversation with CBS News chief election and campaign correspondent Robert Costa on Red & Blue, Fauci called the decision to block the mask requirement “disturbing.”
“The CDC has the capability, through a large number of trained epidemiologists, scientists, to be able to make projections and make recommendations,” Fauci told Costa. “Far more than a judge with no experience in public health.”
During the interview, Fauci urged Americans to follow CDC guidance, which asks travelers to continue to wear face masks. However, he also noted that Americans “have to make their own individual choice” whenever they board a flight next.
“There are going to be plenty of people who are 25 years old, healthy, and say, ‘no, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t like the discomfort of a mask,” Fauci said, adding that at 81 years old, he would be wearing an N95 mask when traveling by plane. This echoes a statement made by President Biden, who told Americans wearing a mask while flying is “up to them.” On April 21, however, White House principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told the press that President Biden was personally in favor of following CDC guidance, as reported by CBS News.
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During his recent interview, Fauci noted that the ruling by Judge Mizelle would set a “dangerous precedent” when it comes to future guidance from the CDC. The White House announced on April 20 that it would be appealing the ruling, which will move the decision to a higher court, CNN reported. The legal action is being carried out despite airlines and public transportation now making masks optional for travelers.
That same day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told CNN+’s Chris Wallace that this appeal is important for two specific reasons.
“One because we think it’s entirely reasonable, as does the Department of Justice, for the CDC, the health and data experts—health experts most importantly in our administration—to be able to have that time to evaluate,” she said. “But also because they want to fight to ensure the CDC’s authority and ability to put in mandates in the future remains intact.”
The press secretary added, “We know there’s going to be ups and downs in this pandemic, we’re all ready for it to be over. But we want to ensure that our public health experts are able to take steps, if needed, in the future.”
RELATED: Dr. Fauci Warns That Vaccinated People “Need to Realize” This Now.