Post editorial: Mask mandates on NYC subways are performance art

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Maskless people are being seen all over the country this summer and it’s been a welcome relief. But there are still some places where you need to keep your mask handy if you plan to enter. I’m speaking of airports, buses, subways, Uber vehicles, and other forms of public transportation. The subway rules in particular have gotten under the skin of the editorial board at the New York Post. This week they deliver a needed sermon for an audience of one. That would be President Joe Biden. It was his executive order that caused the rule to go into effect on public transport, particularly for interstate travel. And it is only his pen that can end the mandate prior to its planned expiration date in September. At this point, as the editors point out, people wearing masks on the Metro is little more than theatrics performed to show everyone who is the boss.

We never thought we’d say this, but we want to smell the subway again.

The vaccinated are allowed to go without masks on the streets, in restaurants, in stores, in offices. But still on the subway and other rail lines they must wear one. It’s pointless and performative. It’s time to lift the mask mandate.

The pandemic is over, as New York’s (maskless) ticker-tape parade Wednesday and the grand fireworks this weekend attest. The unvaxxed should still mask in many places, but for others — the vaccinated majority, by the way — it’s an irrational burden.

I had a similar reaction recently when I needed to take an Uber to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. While waiting for my ride, I was chatting with my neighbors with none of us wearing masks. When I arrived at the pharmacy, there were a few customers wearing masks, but most were not. Neither I nor the person who waited on me at the counter was masked. But my Uber app still informed me that I would not be allowed in the vehicle unless both myself and the driver were wearing masks. What was the point?

The Post is generous enough to say that perhaps Biden’s mask mandate would have made sense in January or February. Virtually nobody was vaccinated at the point, new cases were flooding ICU facilities and there were literally thousands of Americans dying on a daily basis. Personally, I still find that debatable since we’ve now seen multiple studies finding that the common, cloth masks most people wear do virtually nothing to protect an uninfected person from the aerial transmission of the virus. But if nothing else, the performance theater probably seemed more justified.

But as of this week, the average daily death toll is down below 200 for the entire nation of nearly 350 million souls. Two-thirds of the country is fully vaccinated, and for those who are not, that’s the personal choice they have made. In New York City, the daily positivity rate has held steadily below 1% despite there being huge, maskless gatherings going on for weeks.

If people are traveling from one maskless place to another maskless place, what is the point in forcing them to wear a mask during the trip? It simply doesn’t make any sense. Senator Susan Collins, quoted in the linked article, summed it up nicely. “It makes no sense that someone can go to a restaurant without wearing a mask, but they cannot fly on an airplane without one, even though it has a far better ventilation system.”

It’s time for Joe Biden to show the appropriate level of spinal sturdiness and break out his pen to end this mandate. It would be a refreshing case of seeing at least one executive order that most of us could get behind.