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Infection prevention expert: Covid cases will inevitably rise as public transportation mask requirements go away

Posted at 4:45 PM, Apr 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-19 19:29:37-04

MILWAUKEE — Mask requirements are going away on most forms of public transportation in Wisconsin a day after a federal judge in Florida voided the national mask mandate covering airplanes and other forms of transportation.

A UW Health infection prevention expert says he’s cautiously optimistic about the state of COVID-19 right now. While cases have been climbing with a new sub-variant, hospitalizations remain very low in Wisconsin. But he believes lifting public transportation mask mandates will inevitably lead to more spread.

Jazelynn Goudy’s job requires her to fly frequently. She isn’t pleased the next time she hops on a plane, those who sit next to her won’t have to wear a mask.

“It’s just important for the safety of the people around me, as well as where I’m going, that I don’t spread germs, but then also keep myself safe because I don’t want to get Covid again,” Goudy said.

Public transportation mask mandates were in place for two years, but we’ve seen state and local mask mandates come and go. Aneka McBride thinks people deserve to make that choice for themselves.

“I don’t think they were effective, because people still were getting Covid, so I don’t think the masks help,” she said.

Dan Shirley is UW Health’s Medical Director for Infection Prevention. He says masks are still an important layer of protection at this point in the pandemic.

“The problem is that widespread mask mandates are difficult to account for everybody wearing a mask,” he said. “People are tired of wearing masks and so they might not wear them in all circumstances.”

A recent study by the National Library of Medicine found that counties that implemented mask mandates saw a 16.9 percent reduction in cases within the first 30 days compared to those that did not require them in indoor public places.

Another study based in South Korea looked at the effectiveness of mask mandates, specifically on public transportation. The National Library of Medicine found that buses with mask requirements during peak hours reduced Covid exposure by 95.8 percent.

Shirley believes mask mandates are more important for public transportation than city or county-wide mandates, because of the close proximity to others, but he says each mode of transportation presents a different risk level.

Shirley says now is the time for those who have compromised immune systems or unvaccinated children to purchase high quality masks to reduce exposure when you ride the bus or hop on a plane.

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