COVID-19 transmission may increase in tandem with the end of a federal masking mandate on public transportation, according to experts at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
E xperts from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center on Friday encouraged the use of masks on public transportation and airplanes despite a federal judge’s decision to strike down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask mandate for those types of travel.
While COVID-19 cases in the United States remain low compared to the recent omicron surge over the winter, reported infections over the past week have increased nearly 45% from two weeks ago, according to CRC data.
"I suspect we’re going to see more transmission as a result of this judge’s decision," said Crystal Watson , the CRC’s public health lead, during Friday’s live online briefing. "As the parent of a young child who is not yet eligible to be vaccinated, it’s going to make me think twice about traveling on public or air transportation over the next few months."
Watson, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security , said it is "probably prudent" to "either avoid public transportation or wear a high-quality mask while this surge is building" as the U.S. Justice Department appeals the judge’s ruling.
"It’s not totally clear how high of a surge we’re going to have with the BA.2 variant," Watson added. "Hopefully it will not be as severe as the original omicron surge."
Whether the new subvariants cause more severe disease "is something we need to learn more about," she added.
Brian Garibaldi , the CRC’s clinical lead and medical director for the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit , recommended taking the cautious approach of continuing to wear masks in crowded public spaces.
"I was on the light rail coming back from the Orioles game and my son and I were the only people in the car of 100 people wearing a mask," Garibaldi said during the Friday briefing. "Yeah, community transmission is not as high as it was but it’s still out there. I guarantee you there was someone in that car who had COVID and there was probably transmission there."
He said he worries less about surges in transmission from people traveling for business or pleasure as he does about the use of public transportation by people who rely on it to get to the store and to work.
"I encourage people to think about whether it is really that big of a deal to wear a mask in a crowded indoor place on transportation, particularly for protecting those around you who may not be able to protect themselves as well as you can," he said. "While you may be vaccinated and have a good immune system, there may be some people not in that situation who are going to be at risk by others not wearing masks."