Are we ready to go maskless on planes? Marsha Blackburn says yes, but I disagree. | Plazas
Six senators are calling on the Centers for Disease Control to update guidelines and allow vaccinated people to travel on without masks.
- Opinion: We need to get more Americans vaccinated before nixing public transportation mask mandates.
- So far, fewer than 38% of Tennesseans are fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases are starting to rise again.
- David Plazas is the director of opinion and engagement for the USA TODAY Network Tennessee.
"America is #BackTogether tonight is (sic) Nashville!" tweeted Chasten Buttigieg.
This joyous gathering of more than 350,000 people came after more than a year of business shutdowns, quarantines and cancelled events because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If they flew to Music City, the Buttigieges would have worn masks on the plane because Centers for Disease Control guidance still requires them for air travel, even for fully vaccinated people.
But the CDC rule is a sticking point for six Republican senators, including Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn, who are demanding an end to mask mandates for vaccinated travelers.
“It's time for the Biden administration to follow the science. If you are fully vaccinated, there is no reason you should be forced to wear a mask on public transportation," said Blackburn in a June 30 news release.
She and Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Susan Collins, R-Maine, Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, and Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, filed a resolution calling on the CDC to update its guidelines.
CDC regularly updates recommendations
On June 28, I was on my return flight from a four-day weekend to my former home state of Florida. Like many Americans, I was raring to do some leisure travel.
Flight attendants reminded us to keep our masks on even in between chewing snacks and sipping on our drinks.
Senator Collins expressed concern about airplane personnel enforcing mask mandates due to some recent violent incidents, such as, when a passenger punched a flight attendant in a May 23 Southwest flight from Sacramento to San Diego.
Thankfully, there were no such outbursts on my Southwest flight from Miami to Nashville.
The CDC regularly reviews its guidelines, most recently on June 10, when it allowed people in outdoor areas of public transportation (i.e., double decker buses, boats) to not wear a mask.
The agency recommends delaying travel unless passengers are fully vaccinated, which begs the question, how would anyone know?
When travelers go through the airport, they undergo security checks to verify their identify and to ensure they not taking anything illicit with them in their luggage. People without TSA PreCheck still need to take off their shoes and all passengers are under scrutiny to ensure none of their liquids exceeds 3 ounces. I nearly had my 6-ounce sunscreen bottle confiscated before deciding to check my bag.
Yet for a highly infectious and deadly virus, at a time when vaccinations have stalled and variants are spurring new cases, we have no way to keep the coronavirus out. Just remember that more than 600,000 Americans have died, and while death and hospitalization rates have fallen from the peak, they are starting to rise again.
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However, the Biden Administration has no plans to require a vaccine passport, so passengers, TSA agents and flight crews are on the honor system for whether or not they following the rules of travel.
The only thing creating some level of protection against infection are masks. We know they work. Blackburn certainly can appreciate that.
Freedom comes with responsibility
Blackburn was on Air Force One with former President Donald Trump the week he, First Lady Melania Trump and others tested positive for COVID-19.
On Oct. 2, 2020, the senator announced her test came back negative.
"I was socially distanced, wearing a mask, not in close proximity, so we think we're fine," she told an audience she addressed virtually.
The senator chose wisely to follow the science at a time when no vaccine was authorized yet.
Today, vaccines are ubiquitous and yet so many Americans are still choosing not to get vaccinated. The vaccination rate has plateaued and President Joe Biden fell short of his goal of 70% of Americans receiving one dose of the vaccine by July 4.
In Tennessee. that figure is slightly under 38%, putting the Volunteer State in the bottom 10 states for vaccinations, according to the Mayo Clinic.
That is why if the Blackburn and the other senators are demanding updates to CDC guidelines, they should also be publicly and enthusiastically encouraging more citizens to get the vaccine.
Yes, vaccination is a personal choice, but freedom also comes with a responsibility to fellow citizens.
If we want to continue to get "back together," in the words of Chasten Buttigieg, we must take the steps that will eradicate COVID-19.
David Plazas is the director of opinion and engagement for the USA TODAY Network Tennessee. He is an editorial board member of The Tennessean. He hosts the Tennessee Voices videocast. Call him at (615) 259-8063, email him at email@example.com or tweet to him at @davidplazas.