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Most Americans Want Mask-Wearing To Continue In At Least Some Places—But Are Split On Public Transportation, Poll Finds

Topline

A majority of Americans don’t want mask-wearing to entirely go away and still aren’t getting back to their normal, pre-pandemic lives, a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll suggests—but many are nevertheless ready to stop wearing masks on public transportation, with half of respondents saying they want the federal mask mandate for planes and other transportation to expire.

Travelers wear face masks at Denver International Airport on November 30, 2021 in Denver, Colorado.

AFP via Getty Images

Key Facts

The poll found 59% of respondents believe “people should continue to wear masks in some public places” to curb Covid-19 transmission and stave off another surge, while only 40% think mask-wearing should end “so things can get back to normal.”

A narrow 51% majority think the federal government should let the mask mandate for public transportation expire as scheduled April 18, while 49% want it to stay in place.

A large 80% majority reported wearing a mask in indoor public places at least sometimes over the past month—the poll was conducted March 15-22—but only 51% said they wore one “every time” or “most of the time.”

The groups still wearing masks most of the time were Black respondents (81% said they wore one at least most of the time), Democrats (74%), those making less than $40,000 annually (60%), those with chronic health conditions (60%) and vaccinated respondents (55%).

The least likely to wear masks are Republicans (30%), the unvaccinated (32%), white respondents (39%) and those making more than $90,000 annually (41%).

Big Number

41%. That’s the share of respondents that say they’ve either returned to their normal, pre-pandemic lives or never changed their activity level to begin with. A larger 42% share say they’re doing some but not all activities that they did before the pandemic, while 17% are still doing very few of the things they did before Covid-19.

What To Watch For

What will happen with the federal mask mandate, which applies to all public transportation networks nationwide, including planes, buses, trains and in airports. The Biden administration extended the mandate through April 18 in March, and said it would use the extension to create a “revised policy framework” for when masks will be required after that. That means masks will likely be mandatory sometimes—like when transmission is higher or a new variant emerges—but not all the time, as they are now.

Key Background

Mask wearing dropped off nationwide as Covid-19 cases declined following the omicron surge. Every state lifted their indoor mask mandate as cases went down and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its mask-wearing guidance to be based more on hospitalization and severe illness than Covid-19 cases, making it easier for people to take their masks off. Other Covid-19 measures like proof-of-vaccination requirements for public places were also lifted.

What We Don’t Know

Whether Covid-19 cases will go up and make more people mask up again. The rate of new Covid-19 cases has plateaued nationwide after sharply dropping following the omicron variant surge over the winter, and the highly transmissible omicron BA.2 subvariant has prompted concerns that cases will surge again, as they have in other countries like the United Kingdom. Cases are already rising in some areas, like New York City, and the subvariant is now the dominant strain of the coronavirus, making up an estimated 72% of cases last week, according to the CDC. That being said, even if cases go up again, it’s unclear whether restrictions like mask mandates will return, as many Democratic governors have called to treat Covid-19 as an “endemic” virus that shouldn’t disrupt daily life—despite many public health experts saying it’s too early to do so.

Further Reading

KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: Views On The Pandemic At Two Years (Kaiser Family Foundation)

Mask Mandate On Airplanes, Public Transportation Extended Until April 18 (Forbes)

CDC Significantly Loosens Mask Guidelines (Forbes)

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