Members of the Lehigh campus are preparing to make their way out of Bethlehem for the end of the school year as COVID-19 cases slowly rise due to Omicron sub variants. A federal judge in Florida suspended the CDC’s federal mask mandate for airports, planes and other travel forms — though the U.S. Department of Justice is appealing the ruling.
Regardless, it is now up to individual cities, airlines, airports and other transportation systems to make their own masking guidelines.
The Lehigh Valley International Airport and its airlines, the Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANTA), and NJ Transit moved to a mask-optional policy starting in mid-April.
“Throughout the pandemic, LANTA has followed the guidance of the Transportation Security Administration and Centers for Disease Control. When masking was mandated, we mandated it. Now that there is a recommendation, we recommend, which leaves the decision in the hands of the rider,” LANTA Executive Director Owen O’Neil said.
However, Eduardo J. Gómez, associate professor and director of Lehigh’s Institute of Health Policy and Politics, expressed some worry regarding this decision.
“We have to be careful because the virus is still spreading, and people should be aware of other people who are immunocompromised that are still traveling on these public transportations,” Gomez said. “We have to be cognizant of that and encourage people to recognize that, and if possible, use a mask.”
Gomez said he thinks mask policies are currently changing because some people may see cases have gone down, or that hospitalizations and deaths continue to remain low. He also said some of the reasoning could be political.
Jake Dawick, ‘25, said he feels a lot happier not wearing a mask, but he respects other people who decide to wear a mask.
“I think it’s very good that they are doing this now, and it should be optional, and every passenger should have the right to choose whether they want to wear one or not,” Dawick said. “If I were able to (choose to) wear one on the plane, I most likely would not.”
Dawick said he is from Canada, making travel more complicated because he is traveling internationally, and in fact, the airline he will be flying on at the end of the semester, still requires all passengers to wear masks.
Gomez said people have to remember that some of those taking public transportation are elderly or suffering from diseases, but it has come to the point now where masking is at the discretion of the individual.