The more COVID-19 rules change, the more pandemic basics stay the same — mask, distance, wash your hands
If you think that you’ve heard this before, it’s true. I published just about the same pandemic basics article 90 days ago. (It seems like years.)
The world has never been shut down like it was from April to mid-June. Basically, no one traveled by planes, buses, and trains. Plus, some governors and mayors even discouraged automobile travel. The country came to a stop as most citizens obeyed the shelter in place rules.
Personally, I agree with the common sense portions of the new social reality. Maintaining social distance (or physical distance) makes lots of sense. Wearing a mask, even if we do not feel in danger, may prevent someone else from becoming infected (if not from us, from another person emulating our actions).
Stay out of concert mosh pits. Don’t attend crowded festivals. Think about staying away from other situations where we are forced to rub shoulders with fellow humans. Refrain from packed bars. When dining, even with friends in your home, maintain distance during dinners. And, be patient with grocery store personnel limiting the number of customers buying food from overcrowding stores.
We know the pandemic basics — wear masks, maintain social distance, wash your hands. They were drilled into us 90 days ago
There is one problem. These are the habits that people tend to forget first. Just getting travelers to wear masks is difficult. And, fliers are a more or less elite form of Americans. As travelers fight the need to wear masks they push the ending of this pandemic further into the future.
The minute that beaches and bars opened the dash for people to jump into a kind of national mosh pit seemed irresistible. Crowds packed our sandy shorelines and bars were filled with shoulder-to-shoulder party animals. It was an amazing sight after spending months following protocols that called for no close contact. Heck, some real practicing progressives gave up sex!
Wearing face masks became optional even with airline rules
In the President’s zeal to not call for any new regulation, mask mandates were kept at mask guidance. The COVID-19 cases began to climb again. Americans were convinced that wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and washing their hands would stop the coronavirus in its tracks. But they sure didn’t care for the shelter-in-place rules enacted.
Then the shelter-in-place rule was waived. Local businesses began to open. Airbnbs lodging and hotels began to operate and attract lodgers. Though many found it hard to believe, beds filled up and destinations experienced crowds for the first time this year.
Only about half of those who went to the beaches wore masks. Even a smaller percentage donned masks in bars. Of course, the social distancing rules were forgotten. Plus, the towels in my bathroom got mighty dirty very quicky as friends with poorly washed hands wiped them dry.
Let’s try testing flight crews for COVID-19. Plus, don’t punish the sick should they decide not to fly
This is still not the rule; however, it will be. Three months ago, crews were not regularly tested for the coronavirus or other contagious diseases prior to flying. Why not? To make matters worse, medical privacy rules don’t even allow airlines to tell flight crews when a fellow worker gets ill.
Consumer groups repeatedly sent letters, emails, and made phone calls to attempt to get at least a mention of protection in the CARES act. However, consumer efforts were to no avail. (Consumers did manage to get the Department of Transportation to require airlines that canceled flights to make cash refunds of airfares and ancillary fees paid by would-be travelers.)
Airlines still punish sick, contagious passengers who ask to change flights
Today, no rule that says infected passengers with the coronavirus or any other contagious disease should not fly. In fact, if a person with a contagious disease askes to delay a flight, it will cost them extra money. Not one word has changed in the airlines’ permanent contracts of carriage that change the sick passenger rules.
So, we are at the same place in which we found ourselves three months ago. Wear masks, maintain social distance, and wash your hands are the same mantra repeated over and over. No new rules have been made to mandate face masks. And, sick passengers are still punished should they decide to do the right thing and delay a trip until they feel better.
Photos by Ariane Nicholson
Charlie Leocha is the President of Travelers United. He has been working in Washington, DC, for the past 11 years with Congress, the Department of Transportation and industry stakeholders on travel issues. He was the first consumer representative to the Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections appointed by the Secretary of Transportation from 2012 through 2018.