The confusion was in abundance after a federal judge in Florida shut down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. travel mask mandate Monday.
The mandate, first announced in January 2021, required travelers to wear masks on planes, at airports and other travel hubs, and while traveling by public transport.
But Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of the Central District of Florida wrote in her ruling that the mandate was “illegal” and that the CDC exceeded its authority when the policy was implemented.
While many Americans are excited, others are trying to figure out what the new rules mean about their risk of contracting COVID-19 during transit and how they can limit their exposure to the virus.
The CDC still recommends wearing masks
Dr. Stuart Ray, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, said that even though the travel mask mandate has been repealed, it does not mean that people are not allowed to wear face masks when traveling.
In fact, he noted that the CDC still advises wearing masks in indoor public transportation.
“People should recognize that this does not mean that the CDC does not recommend the masks publicly,” he said. “So I think people should pay attention to that advice.”
The abolition of the mandate comes as cases increase in the United States, partly due to the BA.2 variant, a highly transferable sub-variant of the original omicron variant.
New COVID-19 cases in the United States have reached their peak in more than a month, and in the past week, 34 states and territories have seen increases of about 10% or more.
Ray said the combination of rising cases and lifting of mandates will result in more proliferation, so even people who are not high risk or younger may consider still wearing masks when traveling.
“As long as infection rates seem to be rising, I think it’s wise to think about protecting yourself, even if you do not have a particular vulnerability,” he said.
What people at high risk for severe COVID-19 should consider
The decision also has implications for people at high risk for serious illness, hospitalization and death, including immunocompromised people, those with underlying disorders, the elderly and those who are pregnant.
Currently, the CDC recommends these high-risk individuals wear a mask in public indoor spaces in high-transmission areas and talk to their physicians about facial clothing in medium-transmission areas.
Ray said the mandate being lifted “raises the temperature of risk” for these groups and that they might consider taking precautions.
This may mean that you avoid traveling for the time being or make sure to wear a high quality mask, such as an N95, when traveling to avoid infection.
“These people need to be so much more careful that they have a good mask that they change it regularly as recommended, that they take those measures because others will be less likely to wear a mask and prevent it from spreading.” he said.
Increased importance of testing
Ray also said that now that the mandate has been lifted, it will be more important for people to be tested after traveling somewhere.
He recommends that people take a quick test after arriving at their destination and before gathering with others.
“We may want to make sure we have quick tests available because just before assembly we can use them to reduce the risk of transmission,” Ray said.
Ray added that pre-assembly testing should be crucial when people at risk for severe COVID-19 or who are immunocompromised are present.
“The importance of that increases when there are more vulnerable people, and of course it’s hard just to look at someone and tell if they are vulnerable or not,” he said.
More long-term consequences
Another concern experts like Ray have is that more people sitting close to each other exposed on subways, trains or planes could result in more people developing long-term problems from COVID-19, simply because more people will be infected .
This can mean more people with “long COVID”, which occurs when patients who have recovered from the virus continue to experience symptoms weeks, or sometimes months or even years, after they have been tested positive.
Other problems include heart and kidney damage, blood clots or Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis, according to Mayo Clinic.
Ray said he believes the United States can balance these concerns that more people are developing long-term complications “by being more cautious on a voluntary basis in the absence of the mandate.”
He continued, “It is of course possible that the immunity we have built up will alleviate these long-term complications, but we will not know it for some time and it is always difficult to make decisions that look back.”
ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos contributed to this report.