With the pandemic winding down as a growing majority of Americans are vaccinated or naturally immune to the COVID-19 virus, face mask mandates in most parts of the country have been withdrawn or allowed to expire.
That isn’t the case for airline travel, though, where a federal mask mandate remains in place, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) just announced his intent to “stop this farce” and legislatively eliminate the requirement for travelers, The Daily Wire reported.
Senator seeks “immediate repeal”
In a tweet posted Thursday, Sen. Paul wrote, “When the Senate returns to session, I will be introducing an immediate repeal of the mask mandate on planes. Enough! Time to stop this farce and let people travel in peace!”
When the Senate returns to session, I will be introducing an immediate repeal of the mask mandate on planes. Enough! Time to stop this farce and let people travel in peace!
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) July 8, 2021
What the senator was referring to is the federal mask mandate imposed on all domestic travelers inside the U.S. by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and applied to individuals traveling by way of airplanes, buses, and rail systems.
The mandate was first implemented on Feb. 1 — in response to a Jan. 21 executive order from President Joe Biden — and had been set to expire on May 11, but instead was extended through Sept. 13.
The requirement applies to all travelers over the age of two — aside from some limited exemptions for disabilities or medical conditions — and is enforced by civil penalties for noncompliance, including a $250 fine for a first offense and a $1,500 fine for repeat violations.
To be sure, masks were already required by all major airlines, according to a May 2020 report from travel media outlet AFAR, but those requirements were voluntarily put in place by the airlines themselves and weren’t mandated by the TSA or enforced with civil fines by the federal government.
Face masks are “theater”
The Daily Wire noted that this isn’t the first time that Sen. Paul has called out the “farce” that he believes mandatory mask-wearing to be and expressed his desire to see such federal requirements terminated.
During a committee hearing in March, Paul clashed with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), over his continued promotion and use of face masks despite being fully vaccinated and protected from the virus.
The senator suggested the masks were mere “theater” intended to make people feel safe, and chided Fauci for his tendency to “parade around in two masks for show,” when doing so wasn’t necessary.
It will be interesting to see if Sen. Paul’s bill to end the TSA’s mandate goes anywhere in the evenly split Senate or if, perhaps, the simple threat of such legislation and continued focus on the issue is enough to compel the agency to alter or abolish the mandate on its own, ahead of the September expiration date.