(Fargo, N.D.) — A majority of Americans continue to support a mask requirement for people traveling on airplanes and other shared transportation, a new poll finds. A ruling by a federal judge has put the government’s transportation mask mandate on hold.
The poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that despite opposition to that requirement that included verbal abuse and physical violence against flight attendants, 56% of Americans favor requiring people on planes, trains and public transportation to wear masks, compared with 24% opposed and 20% who say they’re neither in favor nor opposed.
Interviews were held for this poll from Thursday through Monday just before an American federal judge repealed Florida’s national mask requirement on planes and mass transportation. The requirement that passengers cover their faces was immediately dropped by airports and airlines.
The Transportation Security Administration stopped enforcing the mask requirement, and the Justice Department announced on Tuesday that it will not appeal the ruling unless the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines it’s still necessary.
This poll shows that there’s a broad partisan divide over the subject. The requirement is supported by 80% of Democrats and opposed only by 5% among Republicans. Republicans are more opposed than 33%, while 22% support the requirement.
Vicki Pettus, who recently moved from Frankfort, Kentucky, to Clearwater, Florida, to be near her grandchildren, said she enjoys the view of Old Tampa Bay but doesn’t like the “very lackadaisical attitude” by Gov. Ron DeSantis (a Republican) spoke out about masking. To protect herself against coronavirus she said that she would continue wearing her mask, even if she is traveling to Kentucky with her 55-year-old mother.
“Especially in a plane where that air is recirculating,” said Pettus, 71, an independent who leans toward the Democratic Party. “I think people are really dumb not to wear their mask. But, hey, that’s their decision, and if they want to get sick that’s fine. I’m not going to.”
But Kriste Lee, who works in sales in South Florida, can’t wait to fly mask-free the next time she travels next month.
“I really wish I was on a plane when they made that announcement,” said Lee, 47. “I would have been dancing up and down the aisle.”
Americans are still supportive of mandatory transportation masks, even though concerns about COVID-19 remain among the lowest in their history. Just 20% now say they’re very or extremely worried that they or a family member will be infected. That’s down slightly since 25% said the same just a month ago and from 36% in December and January as the omicron variant was raging. Another 33% now say they are somewhat worried, while 48% say they’re not worried at all.
Count Betty Harp, of Leitchfield, Kentucky, as among the “very worried” and not because she’s turning 84 next month. She said she takes care of her large house and yard by herself, does a lot of canning and is in “fantastic health for my age.” But she’s lost a lot of friends and family to the virus, which has killed nearly 1 million people in the United States.
“I know COVID is still here. It’s still around,” said Harp, who described herself as a Republican-leaning independent. “I think we should all be wearing masks for a little while longer.”
Another AP-NORC poll was conducted last month. 44% still stated that they wore face masks often or always outside of their home, but that is a significant decrease from the 65% who did it at the start of the year.
Another poll shows that about half the Americans are in favor of masks for people who work with the public. This is compared to 3 out 10 Americans opposed. The support for masks at public gatherings such as sporting events or movies is comparable.
There are large partisan divisions on these as well. 72% of Democrats support requiring that people attend crowded public events wear masks. Only 25% of Republicans are against. Similar numbers exist for masks required for workers who are exposed to the public.
Lee, who said she doesn’t “do politics,” wondered aloud why people are complaining about the judge’s ruling and said nobody is stopping anyone from wearing masks if they want to.
“We all have our beliefs and obviously different views,” said Lee, who is unvaccinated. “Mine are definitely different from the people who are angry and upset.”
Americans working for employers are divided over whether employees should wear masks when they work at home. Thirty-four percent say they’re in favor of that requirement, 33% are opposed and 33% are neither in favor nor opposed. 48% of workers are for it, while 18% oppose. 53% of Republicans work for the Democrats, while 18% support them.
Mike Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, said messaging over the mask mandate would have been more effective if it required N95 or KN95 respirators, which are more effective at preventing transmission of the virus.
“But you have actually created a real challenge with yourself with the public who are now being selective if not outright angry about these mandates,” said Osterholm, who added that he will continue to wear his N95 mask on planes.
The AP-NORC poll of 1,085 adults was conducted April 14-18 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. For all respondents, the margin of sampling error is +/- 3.9 percentage points.
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