Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Last week when I was in the UK, the news was all about inflation, war, heat waves, drought, fires, supply chain problems, and staff shortages. Sound familiar? COVID-19 is no longer the scariest headliner in town. It’s been upstaged by gas prices, food prices, and the weather. Reminders of the pandemic are fading. I look for the signs because they are part of our history, but they are getting harder to find. Would a visitor from outer space even notice that we were recently invaded by a new and scary virus? Would they even notice the vestiges of caution that remain?

It’s been nearly six months since last February when Boris Johnson announced the end of legal restrictions for COVID in the UK. Precautions would be an individual responsibility. I was curious to see how this would look. I started my trip at Los Angeles International Airport on July 17, 2022, where there were few masks. There wasn’t much of a crowd, so I chose not to wear one.

We flew Virgin Atlantic, a British airline, where the airplane safety video did not show or mention masks. We landed at Heathrow London Airport, which was packed with people, as usual, and hardly a mask in sight. I chose to wear one in that environment because of the crowded indoor space.

We stayed in Stratford for a week. I only saw one store with a sign requiring masks, but it was very discreet. A few stores had signs recommending that people maintain a two meter distance (maybe left over from earlier days), and some stores had a hand sanitation station. When we went out to lunch we ate outside, but that was our choice on the cool summer days that followed the heat wave. From my (admittedly small) sample, I think it’s safe to say that restrictions are nearly invisible.

The surprise came when we returned home and landed at LAX. The pilot announced that masks were required at the airport. Yet one week earlier, they definitely hadn’t been. It seemed like a good idea, though, because people were crowded together in a long snaking line to as we approached passport control. Still, it had all changed in one week.

I think this policy switch resulted from a change in jurisdictions. The CDC had a mask mandate for airplanes and airports on the federal level which was set to expire on May 3, but was struck down a few weeks earlier by a U.S. district court judge. Following that court ruling, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it would not enforce the mask directive. Many airlines, such as Delta, Alaska, Frontier, United, and Southwest, immediately announced that they no longer required masks on board their flights. International carriers, such as Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, required masks only if the destination they were flying to required them.

So LAX was apparently between mandates on July 17, 2022. The federal mandate had been struck down by a federal court. The current mask mandate was ordered by Los Angeles County. Los Angeles County has changed or threatened to change mask policies several times in the last two months. The sequence of events is reflected in these headlines:

  • July 14, 2022: “Los Angeles Officially Enters CDC’s “High” Covid Community Level & Mask Mandate Countdown Begins.” Deadline.
  • July 26, 2022: “Here Are Some LA County Cities That Will Not Enforce Mask Mandates,” NBC News, Los Angeles.
  • July 27, 2022: 2nd LA County supervisor opposes mask mandate,” Spectrum News.
  • July 28, 2022: “Los Angeles County drops plan for new universal indoor mask mandate,” Washington Times
  • Aug. 2, 2022: “Coronavirus Today: Experts are taking a softer stance on masking; it’s a different pandemic,” L.A. Times.
L.A. Times, Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. 6:54 PM.

Just two hours ago, an L.A. Times article came up stating that the L.A. schools are dropping mask mandates and universal testing. The Los Angeles School Board delayed the vaccination requirement for students back in May, 2022. Things are changing fast. The August 2 article is right. It is a different pandemic. It’s hard to find people who haven’t been exposed to the virus, whether through vaccination or infection or both. The virus itself has morphed into a less virulent form. And we have more experience and more therapeutics to fight it.

Last week a friend in England asked me if I thought that the lessons we had learned from the COVID-19 experience would enable us to handle the next pandemic better. I said I thought that we had gained valuable scientific information, such as in viral genomic testing, new kinds of vaccines, and new antiviral therapeutics. But I feared that our resistance to political, social, and philosophical differences would prevent us from applying what we have learned effectively.

I could be wrong.

Today’s Notable Headlines:

“England ends all COVID restrictions, including isolation law,” ABC News, Feb. 24, 2022. https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/england-ends-covid-restrictions-including-isolation-law-83083926

“Mask Mandate on Planes: Which Airlines Still Require Face Masks — and Which Don’t,” NBC5 Chicago, April 20, 2022. https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/coronavirus/mask-mandate-on-planes-heres-which-airlines-are-still-requiring-face-masks-and-which-ones-arent/2811421/#:~:text=Delta%3A%20Masks%20No%20Longer%20Required,Delta%20said%20in%20a%20statement.

“The time has come for DIY mandates on COVID-19,” Los Angeles Times. Aug. 1, 2022. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-01/the-time-has-come-for-diy-mandates-on-covid-19

“Coronavirus Today: Experts are taking a softer stance on masking; it’s a different pandemic,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 2, 2022. https://www.latimes.com/science/newsletter/2022-08-02/coronavirus-today-changing-attitudes-on-masking-coronavirus-today

“Los Angeles Officially Enters CDC’s “High” Covid Community Level & Mask Mandate Countdown Begins,” Deadline, July 14, https://deadline.com/2022/07/los-angeles-cdc-high-covid-level-mask-mandate-1235064297/

“Here Are Some LA County Cities That Will Not Enforce Mask Mandates,” NBC News Los Angeles, July 26, 2022. https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/here-are-some-la-county-cities-that-will-not-enforce-mask-mandate/2949444/

“2nd LA County supervisor opposes mask mandate,” Spectrum News, July 27, 2022. https://spectrumnews1.com/ca/la-west/coronavirus/2022/07/27/2nd-la-county-supervisor-opposes-mask-mandate

“Los Angeles County drops plan for new universal indoor mask mandate,” Washington Times, July 28, 2022. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2022/jul/28/los-angeles-county-drops-plan-for-new-universal-in/

“L.A. schools drop aggressive COVID-19 rules: No more testing for all and masks stay optional,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 2, 2022. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-02/l-a-schools-drop-aggressive-covid-19-safety-rules

“L.A. school board delays student COVID-19 vaccine mandate without any discussion,” Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2022. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-05-10/l-a-school-board-delays-student-covid-19-vaccine-mandate-without-any-discussion

Why am I doing this?

The coronavirus pandemic will be written on our memories just as the 1918 Flu Pandemic, the Great Depression, or the Cold War left their mark on past generations. Since March 11, 2020, this blog has examined the modern pandemic experience, drawing on my background as a medical technologist, a historian, and an ordinary person living through an extraordinary world crisis.

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