ELMIRA, NY (WETM) – As COVID cases slowly climb in New York, travelers in the Southern Tier are unmasking on public transportation after federal authorities have ended the travel mask mandate.
A federal judge in Florida has ruled that the national travel mask mandate exceeded the CDC’S authority, making masks optional for passengers on most flights and other types of transportation.
At the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport, most travelers were not wearing masks. One traveler said she was eager for this mandate to end.
“I think it will be more comfortable… of course, when it was mandated I followed rules and dealt with it and wore a mask, but I was happy they finally decided to lift the mandate,” said Michelle Winter, who was on her way to Arizona.
But the reaction is mixed, as COVID numbers, especially in New York State and specifically the Southern Tier are once again on the rise. According to the state’s COVID dashboard, the Southern Tier’s positivity rate is currently at 9.2%, well above the state’s average of 5%.
Another traveler at the Elmira-Corning Regional Airport was Christine Wilken. She was one of the few at the airport on Tuesday, who was wearing a mask.
“I will continue to wear my mask throughout the flight and on the airplane, just for my own personal safety and comfort. I don’t know where anyone else on the plane has been or what contacts they have had,” said Wilken, on her way to Rome, Italy.
Wilken even goes as far as to say, this was not the right time to drop the mandate.
“I would prefer people wear a mask, I would prefer the transportation mandate stayed in place…But I don’t get a say in that so I’m just going to do what I can, to protect myself,” said Wilken.
But, experts say they are not expecting a surge in cases, comparing this situation to mask mandates being lifted in other areas, such as schools.
“We have not seen a large spike or surge in schools as a result of lifting that mask mandate,” said Steuben County Public Health Director, Darlene Smith.
Smith even suggests that the air on airplanes might be a better environment to unmask in, than buildings.
“One advantage that airplanes have, is their air filtration… There’s a complete turnover off the air every three minutes… That’s much more frequent than inside, you know, buildings,” said Smith.
Though, Smith does not discourage from wearing a mask. She said if anyone feels uncomfortable with the mask mandate being lifted, “They should absolutely feel comfortable to continue to wear a mask… it is still going to be an added layer of protection for them.”
The CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time.