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Why I’ll continue to wear a mask while traveling

A Florida judge may have struck down the CDC mask mandate and airlines are eagerly dropping the requirement, but I’ll take my advice from the pros

Alex Gonzalez and Christopher Muther, masked up and ready to fly early in the pandemic. The two now wear N95 or KN95 masks while flying.Alex Gonzalez

When it’s time to choose a doctor, a dentist, or even someone to cut my hair, I do a bit of research. I’ll Google around to check their qualifications and background. I’ll pick through reviews and then make an informed decision.

I’ve done the same throughout the pandemic. I’ve listened to the advice of epidemiologists, scientists, and researchers who have studied infectious diseases for years. So when a federal judge in Florida struck down the national mask mandate covering airplanes, airports, and other public transportation, I again went into research mode. Was Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle fair in agreeing with plaintiffs Sarah Pope, Ana Carolina Daza, and the Health Freedom Defense Fund that the mask mandate “violated the Separation of Powers between the States and Federal Government”?

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Much has been made of Judge Mizelle’s age, experience, and her appointment by Donald Trump. The word “unqualified” was even bandied about by the American Bar Association. But I wanted to know about the plaintiffs in the case. The women filing suit against the government, plus the nonprofit that joined them, must have encountered compelling, egregious, and debilitating health issues to file a lawsuit against the government. I mean, it’s the government.

In the suit, Daza said she objected to wearing a mask on a plane because “it gives her anxiety, headaches, and shortness of breath.” Pope said she was concerned that “wearing a mask for extended periods will give her anxiety or cause her to have a panic attack.”

If I’m reading this correctly, Pope had not yet experienced a panic attack from wearing a mask on an airplane, but was worried that she might. It’s kind of like saying, “I don’t want to file taxes because I’m worried that I will owe money.”

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But Pope was compelled to file suit against the government. You don’t wake up one morning and say, “Today I’ll clean the leaves out of the gutters and sue the federal government.” She must have a background in science and the dangers of mask-wearing that would lead her to embark on this life-altering journey.

I checked to see what she knows that the rest of us don’t. It turns out that Pope knows a lot. She’s a lifestyle blogger, natch. She has a website and a YouTube channel called the Healthy Home Economist. She shows viewers how to make fermented ketchup and raw butter fudge.

In her introductory video, she explains, “This channel is all about health. Health in the way our grandparents experienced it, where they didn’t need medicine for headaches every day because of the stress and the low food quality they were eating. They didn’t need a cup of coffee in the morning to get them going because they just got out of bed and they felt good.”

Poppycock! My grandparents tipped back multiple cups of coffee a day, their definition of a green salad was lime Jell-O with crushed pineapples, and my grandmother was always complaining about headaches. My confidence in Pope’s expertise was quickly eroding. Something about her “didn’t need medicine” line set off some alarms.

I kept Googling, all the way back to 2014, when Pope made an appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” to talk about vaccinations. Pope told then-“Daily Show” correspondent Samantha Bee that “I’m not putting anyone at risk by not vaccinating my children.” She told Bee that the decline in diseases like measles and polio wasn’t because of vaccines, but other factors, such as getting horses off the street. Huh?

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“You could line up the doctors from here to down the block refuting me,” Pope promised. “But I’m not gonna change my mind.”

Well, that certainly sounds like a rational approach to health care decisions. Line those doctors up, as many as you want. The answer will always be: “You’re wrong!” Pope must have determined the doctors were misinformed about wearing masks, as well. Doctors, can you please get back into line? We need to tell you all that you’re wrong about masks.

Perhaps Pope isn’t the authority I was looking for on the subject of wearing masks on planes. Although I probably should have guessed that from her blog entries such as “Soy Boy Epidemic. How to Protect Your Son from the Globalist’s War on Testosterone” and “Vaxed Women Increasingly Shunned from the Dating Scene.”

Well, if Pope didn’t have a compelling reason for filing a lawsuit, perhaps I could find one with the Health Freedom Defense Fund, the nonprofit that joined Pope and Daza in the suit. Its website states “Health Freedom Defense Fund stands for freedom, choice, and the most basic of human rights, bodily autonomy.” Something about this sounded ominous. The preposition “of” between the words “freedom” and “choice” was noticeably missing.

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The president of the Health Freedom Defense Fund is Leslie Manookian, a former finance executive who left Wall Street and made a movie called “The Greater Good.” It’s a movie about — here we go again — the debate around vaccines.

You don’t need to be Agatha Christie to see where all of this is headed. Manookian is as strident as Pope when it comes to her belief that vaccines are bad news. I’m still not sure exactly what any of this has to do with wearing a mask on a plane. After reading Manookian’s blog, I’m a bit leery about taking medical advice from her.

“Vaccine tracking registries already exist in most states and now Bill Gates has developed a technology which will leave an invisible vaccination record under the skin of those vaccinated,” she wrote.

So that explains why I had such a bad reaction to my booster shot. It was the pesky invisible medical record.

Just to recap: Decisions about the health of travelers in the United States are falling into the hands of anti-vaxxers who filed suit against wearing masks on planes and in airports. I’m not entirely sure what those views have to do with the efficacy of masks, or what makes these individuals experts on the subject. Even Judge Mizelle chimed in on the value of masks, stating “wearing a mask cleans nothing” and “at most, it traps virus droplets.”

Instead of doffing my mask because a judge in Florida sided with some folks who don’t believe in vaccines and think Bill Gates is tracking my vaccination record under my skin (have at it, Bill; CVS is tracking it, too), I’ll listen to professionals with experience in the arena of infectious disease.

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Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, was the chief of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. She may not be an expert on making fermented ketchup, but she does know about viruses. Because of the emergence and spread of the COVID variant BA.2, the CDC decided to hold off deciding against lifting a mandate for public transportation until May 3.

Unlike Daza and Pope, who feel anxiety when they wear a mask (or get anxious at the thought of it), I sometimes feel anxiety when I don’t wear one. Airlines that have been fighting the mask mandate for months are already siding with the judge in Florida. By Monday night, most major US airlines had dumped their mask mandate, telling passengers it was optional.

I think I’m going to go with the CDC on this one. I want to keep myself and others safe. Do as you please, America, but I’m following the science. The mask stays.


Christopher Muther can be reached at christopher.muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and Instagram @chris_muther.