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Coronavirus Update: Experts dismayed by response to face-mask mandate ruling as airlines immediately drop requirement — in some cases midflight

Experts were dismayed Tuesday at the response to a federal judge ruling that struck down the U.S. face mask mandate covering airlines and other public transportation, leading some airlines to immediately drop their requirements — in some cases mid-flight — and sow confusion among travelers.

Some took to Twitter to express their worry that young children who are not yet eligible for vaccination or those with compromised immune systems will be needlessly exposed to the virus.

The Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s largest union of cabin crews, had recently taken a neutral position on the mask rule because its members are divided about the issue, the Associated Press reported. On Monday, the union’s president appealed for calm on planes and in airports.

“The last thing we need for workers on the frontlines or passengers traveling today is confusion and chaos,” union leader Sara Nelson said.

The CDC and Justice Department declined to comment to the AP.

“This is obviously a disappointing decision,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “The CDC is recommending wearing a mask on public transit.”

The New York City subway will continue to require face masks, as the state has seen a sharp surge in COVID cases recently, as the BA.2 variant of omicron, and two subvariants of BA.2, have spread fast.

The CDC had recently extended the mask mandate, which was set to expire Monday, until May 3 to allow more time to study BA.2, which is now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the U.S.

The shift in the U.S. toward personal choice when it comes to COVID-19 precautions could backfire, a former Obama administration health official said Monday. The thinking is that with a majority of the population vaccinated and treatments available that make severe or deadly COVID cases less likely for most people, COVID precautions can become a matter of weighing personal risk.

“My biggest issue with the it’s-your-call kind of theme that’s out there [is] we don’t do this in any other area of illness, health, or disease or burden,” Dr. Kavita Patel, a physician who served as a health policy director in the Obama administration, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in an interview.

‘I think that this is unfortunately going to come back to bite us, because we’re not necessarily doing the types of things we should be doing.”

The move comes as COVID-19 cases are rising again across the U.S. after their steep decline early in the year. The U.S. is averaging 39,152 cases a day, according to a New York Times tracker, up 43% from two weeks ago.

Cases are rising in 35 of the 50 states and with many people now testing at home, the official count is likely underreported.

On a brighter note, the country is averaging 14,653 hospitalizations a day, down 6% from two weeks ago, and still close to the lowest since the first weeks of the pandemic. The daily death toll has fallen to 425, still an undesirably high number that is mostly unvaccinated people.

But with cases rising, there is no guarantee that hospitalizations won’t start to tick up again, as they are in some states.

Other countries that have dropped their face mask mandates are seeing other consequences too.

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• Moderna
MRNA,
-2.32%

said it began dosing patients in a Phase 2 clinical study assessing its experimental bivalent omicron-specific booster. This booster candidate has two components: a BETA-specific booster, and the COVID-19 vaccine, which is based on the original strain of the virus. “Our goal has been to remain ahead of the virus, and we are committed to generating and sharing data with public health authorities as they prepare for the fall booster season,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a news release. The study will enroll 375 adults at 20 sites in the U.S. Moderna is also testing a standalone omicron-specific booster candidate in a separate study. 

• Johnson & Johnson
JNJ,
+2.90%

suspended guidance for sales of its COVID vaccine for all of 2022 when it reported first-quarter earnings on Tuesday, citing a surplus of supply and uncertainty about demand. The company sold $457 million of vaccines in the quarter, most of it to international buyers. That was down from the $1.6 billion of sales chalked up in the fourth quarter. The company had previously guided for $3 billion to $3.5 billion of vaccine sales in 2022. The Food and Drug Administration in April of last year temporarily paused the use of the J&J vaccine in the U.S. over a rare blood-clotting disorder.

See now: Second global COVID summit planned for May will ask world leaders to redouble effort to end acute phase of pandemic

• Officials in Shanghai are pleading for public cooperation with a huge push to test most of the population for COVID, as it seeks to reduce community transmission after nearly three weeks of lockdown, Reuters reported. The plea came as some people refused to join PCR testing queues out of weariness after weeks of such requirements, or fear it puts them at greater risk of infection. Residents shared stories on social media of people being taken by bus from their homes and sent into quarantine, including the elderly and babies.

As Shanghai remains locked down amid China’s biggest Covid-19 outbreak, residents are taking to social media to vent about a shortage of food or they’re bartering with neighbors. Anxiety and hunger are prompting many to question Beijing’s pandemic strategy. Photo: Chinatopix Via AP

• Members of the U.K. parliament are to vote Thursday on whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson should be investigated for knowingly misleading them over his breach of COVID rules, BBC News reported. Johnson will face MPs later Tuesday and is expected to make his first statement since being fined by the police for breaking his own lockdown rules. The PM is expected to again apologize but also repeat that he did not know he was breaking the rules by hosting parties at his London residence.

Here’s what the numbers say

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 505 million on Tuesday, after breaching the half-billion mark on last Tuesday. The death toll rose above 6.2 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 80.7 million cases and more than 988,939 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 218.6 million people living in the U.S. are fully vaccinated, equal to 65.8% of the total population. But just 99.5 million are boosted, equal to 45.3% of the vaccinated population.

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