Apple will reportedly let vaccinated customers go maskless in many of its stores from Tuesday

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook

  • Apple plans to drop mask mandates for vaccinated customers at many stores from Tuesday, sources told Bloomberg.
  • Apple staff at the stores will still have to wear masks, the sources said.
  • Apple employees in some California offices will also be allowed to drop their masks, Bloomberg reported.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Apple plans to allow vaccinated customers to go without masks at many of its US stores from Tuesday, sources familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

Staff would not ask customers to provide proof of vaccination, unnamed sources told Bloomberg.

Staff would still have to wear masks, the company has told workers, per the sources.

The sources asked to remain anonymous because they did not want to discuss company policy before its public announcement, Bloomberg reported.

Apple’s mask mandate would also be scrapped for employees based at Apple’s offices in Cupertino, California, according to an internal memo viewed by Bloomberg.

Some US retailers dropped their in-store mask mandates for customers last month, after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) relaxed its mask guidelines for fully-vaccinated people.

Walmart, Costco, and Trader Joe’s were among the retailers that lifted mask requirements for vaccinated customers.

Apple would check customers’ temperature at the door of its stores and limit occupancy to enable social distancing, Deidre O’Brien, Apple’s senior vice president of retail and people, said in a blogpost last month.

Apple did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

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Suicide attempts among teen girls spiked by about 51% during the pandemic, the CDC says

teen girl suicide
  • Suspected suicide attempts by teen girls increased about 51% between February and March 2021 compared to the same period last year.
  • To gather the data, the CDC tracked emergency room visits across the country for suspected suicide attempts.
  • Suicide attempts by teen boys aged 12 to 17 also went up but marginally.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says teen girl suicide attempts increased drastically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study, published Friday, found that suspected suicide attempts among girls aged 12 to 17 went up by 50.6% between February 21 and March 20 of this year, compared to the same time period in 2019 before the pandemic. Suicide attempts among boys of the same age range also went up but by 3.7%.

“Self-reported suicide attempts are consistently higher among adolescent females than among males, and research before the COVID-19 pandemic indicated that young females had both higher and increasing rates of ED visits for suicide attempts compared with males,” researchers wrote in the study, suggesting this new data falls in line with previous research.

“However, the findings from this study suggest more severe distress among young females than has been identified in previous reports during the pandemic, reinforcing the need for increased attention to, and prevention for, this population,” the study continued.

To conduct the study, researchers examined emergency room visits between January 1, 2019, and May 15, 2021. Visits to the emergency room by adolescents, especially girls, across 49 states and Washington, DC, began to increase around May 2020, the researchers noted. After May 2020, the rates at which adolescent girls visited the ER continued to stay elevated.

The report comes as researchers release new information suggesting that the coronavirus pandemic might have led to higher rates of mental health problems among teenagers. Adolescents have been showing signs of anxiety and depression as virtual learning across the country keeps friends isolated and prohibits participation in regular, in-person extracurricular activities.

“Young persons might represent a group at high risk because they might have been particularly affected by mitigation measures, such as physical distancing (including a lack of connectedness to schools, teachers, and peers); barriers to mental health treatment; increases in substance use; and anxiety about family health and economic problems, which are all risk factors for suicide,” researchers who conducted the CDC study wrote.

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Contract worker at a Los Angeles County vaccine center was charged with stealing over 500 blank vaccine cards

covid-19 vaccine card
Covid-19 vaccine cards help you remember when to get your second shot.

  • LA County DA George Gascón charged an LA County health contractor with stealing 500 blank vaccine cards.
  • The nonclinical contract worker worked at the Pomona Fairplex vaccine center.
  • Prosecutors alleged that the value of each stolen card was close to $15.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A contractor working at a Los Angeles County vaccination center was charged on Wednesday with stealing more than 500 blank vaccine cards.

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced the charges in a Wednesday press release.

Muhammad Rauf Ahmed, a contract worker at the Pomona Fairplex’s vaccine supersite and Las Vegas resident, was charged with one felony count of grand theft. In the release, prosecutors alleged that the value of each stolen card was close to $15.

The procuring and selling of fake and blank vaccine cards is on the rise, and an Insider investigation showed that 150 fake vaccine cards could be purchased on the internet for $50. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides Americans vaccine cards for free after they receive a COVID-19 vaccine dose.

“Selling fraudulent and stolen vaccine cards is illegal, immoral and puts the public at risk of exposure to a deadly virus,” Gascón said.

The DA’s investigation into the affair at the Fairplex started on April 27, when officials noticed missing blank vaccine cards at the vaccination site in Pomona and suspected they had been stolen. LaVerne police are currently investigating Ahmed, who has an arraignment date of August 25.

Ahmed, who was not a clinical worker, was released on a $500 bail on Wednesday, KNBC reported.

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Some flight attendants say they’re looking forward to travel bouncing back from pandemic lows, even as passenger violence surges

flight attendants
Some flight attendants are looking forward to US travel rebounding during summer 2021.

  • Five flight attendants told Insider they are looking forward to travel rebounding this summer.
  • Workers miss the ability to explore cities during layovers and hanging out with crew members.
  • Some added they feel a better sense of job security compared to the height of the pandemic.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Sarah, a Georgia-based flight attendant for a major US carrier who said she worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, is ready for travel to rebound.

Recent data shows Americans are ready to see the outside of their homes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention greenlit travel for vaccinated people in April. A record 1.9 million people went through airport security ahead of Memorial Day weekend, up from the just 327,000 passengers screened the same time last year. Americans are taking advantage of dirt-cheap fares and already booking trips for Christmas.

Sarah said she enjoyed the decreased stress that came while working over the pandemic, servicing emptier planes when people felt less safe flying. She added boarding back-to-front and assisting fewer passengers with their luggage made her job more efficient.

But more than a year after the pandemic, Sarah, who, like many of the other flight attendants interviewed, requested to remain anonymous to speak without fear of retaliation, said she is excited for the perks of her job – like visiting new destinations during layovers – that got put on hold.

“We want travel to come back, flight attendants probably the most,” she told Insider. “We miss traveling on our off days and we want travel to be safe for everyone.”

Got a tip? If you are a flight attendant and wish to share your experience, contact the author at aakhtar@insider.com.

Though the pandemic has changed how we fly, some flight attendants are ‘cautiously optimistic’ about travel’s return

A San Francisco-based flight attendant said the job lost some of its “glamour” during the pandemic, as crew members couldn’t visit beaches and other attractions due to quarantine mandates across many US states. The flight attendant recalled packing her lunch in mid-2020 for flights because airports had closed many restaurants.

“I just had back-to-back layovers in Hawaii and, you know, crew members are not exempt from quarantine,” the flight attendant said. “In the old days, I would have been laying out my bikini, so it’s definitely a little less glamorous now that’s for sure.”

The San Francisco-based flight attendant said the job had become lonelier during the pandemic because she and other crew members could not go out for happy hours due to COVID restrictions. Some protocols have left flight attendants feeling lonelier aboard planes, too.

“I miss so much being able to smile at my passengers,” she said. “I do smile now, but you know, you can’t see it. I hope that my passengers can feel it, but I do miss being able to actually give them a real smile.”

Jenn Ayala, a flight attendant based in New Jersey, told Insider that she also feels like wearing masks had made communicating with passengers more difficult, and took a hit on the customer service part of the job.

Policing passengers over mask policies had made passengers more aggressive during the pandemic, flight attendants recently told Insider. The Federal Aviation Administration said it received 2,500 reports of unruly behavior by passengers since January 2021. About 1,900 of the reports deal with passengers who refused to comply with the federal facemask mandate.

Per the CDC, Americans – both vaccinated and unvaccinated – still must wear masks in airports and on transportation. But airlines like United and Delta are taking harder approaches to COVID-19 safety than other private firms by requiring new flight attendants get vaccinated.

Anthony Fauci said he predicts all airlines and cruise ships will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination before getting on board.

Sarah said she feels safe flying because she knows vaccines are safe and airlines continuously filter air in the cabin.

Though she said passengers who don’t want to wear masks have been “challenging” to deal with, Sarah said she’s seeing less nervous passengers and people boarding the plane wearing hazmat suits the last few weeks – a sign that Americans are thankful to be in the air after being “cooped up” at home.

“As of right now, I’m cautiously optimistic for the future of airline travel,” Sarah said. “I’m really proud of how US airlines have handled flying during the pandemic and keeping everyone safe.”

Other flight attendants said more travel means more job stability.

One Los Angeles-based flight said another benefit for the uptick in travel is decreased fear of furloughs and layoffs.

American and United began furloughing workers on September 30 after projecting the two would layoff a combined 32,000 workers. Globally, airlines may have cut nearly 5 million jobs if travel did not rebound after COVID-19, according to an analysis by the Air Transport Action Group.

But one year later, American, Delta, United, and Southwest all announced they will hire pilots and other positions before the end of 2021. The Association of Flight Attendants union expects the number of flight attendant jobs to climb from 80,000 in June to 100,000 by 2023, Insider’s Kate Duffy reported.

“The more flying we have, the better it is for both passengers and crew members,” the LA-based flight attendant said. “I hope everything stays and we don’t have any setbacks going forward.”

One Chicago-based flight attendant told Insider she got laid off for four months during the winter, and came back on board in March. She said the state of the industry had been in such a flux that she didn’t know whether to wait until she got called back or to find another job.

She said she’s ready for airline travel to go “back to normal,” and she’s happy to see flights full again.

“I really love my job,” the flight attendant said. “I didn’t realize how much I would miss interacting with people until I was furloughed and quarantined. The furlough made me appreciate my job more.”

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Less than half of Americans who don’t plan to get vaccinated have worn a mask recently, according to a new survey

anti mask protest
An anti-mask protestor holds up a sign in front of the Ohio Statehouse during a right-wing protest in Columbus, Ohio.

  • Unvaccinated Americans are wearing masks less than ever, according to a new Gallup poll.
  • Just under 50% of Americans who don’t plan to get vaccinated against COVID report wearing masks.
  • The new poll is the first from Gallup since CDC guidelines were updated for vaccinated Americans.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Americans who don’t plan to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are masking less than ever, a new poll has found.

Just 49% of Americans who said they don’t plan to get vaccinated also said they had worn a mask in the last seven days, according to the latest Gallup poll – the first such poll since the CDC revised masking guidelines for vaccinated Americans.

Those new guidelines stated that people who are vaccinated are able to go maskless in most settings, including indoor gatherings among other maskless people.

Yet the same poll found that most vaccinated Americans are keeping their masks on: 90% of fully vaccinated people said that they had worn a mask in the last seven days.

Walenski CDC US
Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Notably, the question lacked specificity as to how those vaccinated people were masking.

While some national chains like Walmart, Starbucks, and Best Buy are allowing vaccinated customers to go maskless, many private businesses are still requiring all customers to wear a mask. And hospitals, public transportation, and airlines are all still asking everyone to wear a mask, vaccinated or not.

About 61% of the eligible American population has received at least one dose of the available COVID vaccines, according to the CDC, and President Biden has set a goal to hit 70% by July 4.

The poll results highlight a stark contrast between people who don’t plan to get vaccinated and those who either plan to get vaccinated, are partially vaccinated, or already are fully vaccinated: Less than half of the former group has used a mask in the last seven days, while 80 to 90% of the latter group have.

Since lockdowns were instituted in March 2020, and masking became standard during the global coronavirus pandemic, anti-mask protesters have pushed back – storming a Target last summer, staging rallies around the world, and showing up heavily armed at statehouses.

Masking quickly became a political issue, with far-right politicians like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene most recently comparing mask mandates to the Holocaust.

Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (bgilbert@insider.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.

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I am immunocompromised, and the vaccine may not keep me safe. As the country reopens and mask mandates lift, millions of people like me feel scared and abandoned.

A crowd of people wearing masks are in various lines at a bus station.
Commuters line up at a transport hub wearing masks. In the US, mask mandates are lifting as more people get vaccinated, leaving those with weakened immune systems behind.

  • Research indicates the COVID-19 vaccines do not work well for many immunocompromised people.
  • As mask mandates lift, people who are immunocompromised are feeling scared and left behind.
  • There are steps that businesses, health officials, and the CDC need to take to keep us safe.
  • Kathryn Mayer is a Denver-based writer and editor.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The vaccines are here, businesses are reopening, and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks in public places. All of this messaging shouts: The pandemic is over! It’s safe for vaccinated people! Let’s move on with our lives without precaution!

But all this premature optimism and jubilation is leaving out one important group: immunocompromised individuals who suffer weakened immune systems and are among the most vulnerable to serious illness and death from COVID-19.

Worse yet, emerging research indicates that COVID-19 vaccines may not be as effective for immunosuppressed patients – for many people in this group, the vaccines do not produce much, if any, immune response against the virus – leaving many of them just as vulnerable as if they hadn’t been vaccinated.

This is an important finding in part because the group is not insignificant in numbers: About 10 million people in the US are immunocompromised, typically because of organ transplants or illnesses like cancer and autoimmune diseases, as well as the immune-suppressing medications many use to help treat these conditions.

I’m one of them – I have two autoimmune diseases in which my body attacks healthy tissue and cartilage, and more broadly wreaks havoc on my system. To help treat these illnesses, I take immune-suppressing drugs that in turn make me even more vulnerable and prone to long-lasting viruses, infections, and other illnesses.

Like many others in my shoes, I’ve already felt left behind in many respects over the past year. Since last March, I’ve done my due diligence and followed all the recommendations, rules, and guidelines, including forgoing travel, visiting restaurants, and visits from family and friends – even as those around me gave up one precaution after another, lured by vacations, indoor holiday gatherings, and crowded bars and restaurants.

But the latest guidance from the CDC allowing vaccinated people to shed their masks in indoor, public places – and worse yet, essentially allowing unvaccinated people to remove masks in public as well since businesses typically do not require proof of inoculation – has made individuals like me feel even more left behind, anxious, and forgotten. I’m vaccinated, but it’s not clear what kind of protection that provides for me. (Immunocompromised individuals were excluded from the vaccine trials, but a new study is now underway from the National Institutes of Health).

The things I’ve been looking forward to doing once I was vaccinated now seem far out of reach, knowing the extra precaution of masks is no longer required. Yes, I can and will wear one, but being around scores of maskless people is a risk too many immunocompromised people can’t take. After a year of “we’re all in this together” and “let’s keep each other safe,” people are now rushing to take off their masks without thinking of those who still need to be protected. It’s not as simple as vaccinated or unvaccinated – there’s a murky middle camp of chronically ill patients who are inoculated, but who simply don’t have the normal defenses that allow the vaccines to work.

President Biden said recently that the new mask guidance means the unvaccinated “will end up paying the price,” but he’s wrong – he’s leaving out the vulnerable immunocompromised community. It’s a real punch in the gut for these people after an especially challenging and frightening year.

How to keep immunocompromised people safe

Despite these failings, there are steps that health officials, government, and businesses can take to make me and the 10 million others like me feel more safe and seen in this phase of the pandemic.

First of all, both public health officials and businesses should not rush to take away every precaution. Although this seems simple enough, it’s worth saying. Don’t take away every precaution and health and safety protocol that makes us feel ever-so-slightly more safe. If people can go maskless, don’t take away precautions like capacity limits and alternate options like virtual events and curbside pickup until vaccination rates are significantly higher and research has been conducted on vaccine efficacy for immunocompromised individuals.

For companies that want to return workers to the office – and plan to forgo mask mandates – allow your immunocompromised workers to continue to work from home.

Another suggestion is for the government to consider a widespread vaccination passport policy. I know, I know: No one can agree on this. But relying on the honor system to keep public spaces safe is not going to cut it. Chronically ill people, who for years have gotten extremely ill from being around sick people, no longer trust others to keep us healthy – especially during a pandemic.

Remember at the beginning of the pandemic when there were special hours at stores for elderly and immunocompromised people (because at one point, we mattered)? I’d love to see this return for grocery stores and other businesses. For places that are following the updated CDC guidance and allowing people to go maskless, offering a mask-mandated hour for chronically ill and immunocompromised individuals – or just anyone who feels safer wearing a mask – will help keep us safe.

Certain types of businesses that make appointments in advance – hair salons or financial institutions, for instance – should make it a policy to ask customers their mask preference during the booking process.

The CDC should update health guidance to inform the public about immunocompromised risks and how people can help. When the CDC released its new mask guidance, it included a line addressed to immunocompromised people, telling them they are still vulnerable and to “be aware of the potential for reduced immune responses to the vaccine, as well as the need to continue following current guidance to protect themselves against COVID-19” – um, thanks?. But besides the “you’re on your own!” message, it did not inform the public about what risks they pose to this vulnerable group of people or what they can do to help. This needs to be rectified.

Most importantly, I urge the CDC and health officials to share information about the continued risks for vaccinated immunocompromised people to the general public, so people are aware of this underreported issue and understand that they can help keep this group safe by continuing to wear masks (even though they are not required to). I would also urge the CDC to update their mask guidance to tell the public that those who continue to wear masks, especially in public places or in circumstances where they might be in contact with an immunocompromised person, will help protect this vulnerable population.

It may be too late to reverse the mask guidance, but it’s not too late to do the right thing to help keep millions of people like me safe. Our lives might actually depend on it.

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More teens are ending up in the hospital with COVID-19, now the CDC is urging parents to get them vaccinated

Natalie Ruiz,19, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a FEMA vaccination center at Miami Dade College, Monday, April 5, 2021, in Miami.
Natalie Ruiz,19, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a FEMA vaccination center at Miami Dade College, Monday, April 5, 2021, in Miami.

  • Coronavirus hospitalization rates among teens rose in March and April, the CDC said.
  • CDC Director Rochelle Walensky called the trend alarming.
  • Walensky is encouraging parents to get their teens vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The number of teens hospitalized with COVID-19 increased in March and April, after having declined earlier this year, a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the trend was alarming and encouraged parents to vaccinate their eligible teens.

“I am deeply concerned by the number of hospitalized adolescents and saddened to see the number of adolescents who required treatment in intensive care units or mechanical ventilation,” Walensky said in a statement.

The CDC has allowed the use of the Pfizer vaccine for people 12 years old and up.

While the majority of those hospitalized for COVID-19 are still adults, the study found between January and March, a third of the 204 teens hospitalized for the coronavirus required a third required intensive care unit admission, and 5% required invasive mechanical ventilation.

“Much of this suffering can be prevented,” Walensky said in the statement.

She added that those who are not yet vaccinated should continue to wear masks and socially distance to protect themselves.

“Vaccination is our way out of this pandemic.  I continue to see promising signs in CDC data that we are nearing the end of this pandemic in this country; however, we all have to do our part and get vaccinated to cross the finish line,” she added.

A Washington Post analysis last week found that while COVID-19 cases, deaths, and hospitalizations have been on the decline as more Americans get vaccinated, rates for those who are not vaccinated have not significantly shifted. People who are not vaccinated yet are still at high risk for infection and severe illness.

About 41.4% of the total US population is fully vaccinated, according to the most recent CDC data available at the time of publication.

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A travel-safety guide for vaccinated people: How to keep your stress level and infection risk low this summer

A person wearing a mask boards a plane.
A man wearing a mask boards a plane.

  • As people begin to travel more, there are ways to fly safely without going overboard, experts say.
  • Flying is relatively low-risk for vaccinated people, even in crowded airports.
  • It’s no longer critical to social distance on planes, but keep your mask on and minimize layovers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Christopher Sanford was eager to hop on a plane after getting vaccinated in January. Until that point, he had only flown once in the pandemic – to visit his mother in Texas.

“The whole world has cabin fever, and everybody wants to travel now, myself included,” Sanford, an associate professor of global health at the University of Washington, told Insider.

So three weeks ago, Sanford and his wife headed to Turkey, alongside a multitude of travelers embarking on their first flights in more than a year.

In the last two months, the average number of daily passengers recorded by the US Transportation Security Administration has risen 30%, from around 1.2 million in March to 1.6 million in May. Booking Holdings, a travel company that owns search engines like Priceline and Kayak, reported that its airline tickets sales jumped 49% during the first three months of 2021.

This uptick came as several countries reopened their borders to tourists: Iceland and Croatia have lifted quarantine requirements for US travelers, for example, as long as visitors show proof of vaccination. The European Union, meanwhile, expects to allow fully vaccinated Americans to visit this summer.

But Sanford said many of his patients still question whether traveling is safe – particularly as airports get crowded.

“I’m very heartened that things are slowly lurching back toward normal, but there’s a tremendous amount of fear, even after people have been vaccinated,” he said.

He offered a few tips for staying safe while flying, even if you’re vaccinated.

Flying was fairly low-risk even before vaccines

flight attendant mask covid
A flight attendant wears a mask in the air.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people delay all travel until they’re fully vaccinated.

But scientists haven’t documented many cases of coronavirus transmission on flights, most likely for two reasons: Airplanes have strict mask requirements and solid air-filtration systems.

Air generally comes in through vents above your seat, then exits an aircraft through floor-level vents nearby, meaning it doesn’t circulate throughout the entire cabin. It’s also filtered through high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters, which can remove coronavirus aerosols (tiny airborne particles produced when people talk or exhale).

“If somebody is right next to you and they have COVID and they take their mask down, that elevates your risk,” Sanford said. “But if they’re several rows back, even if they don’t wear a mask and they have COVID, probably their exhaled air is going to go through a filter before you breathe it in and the risk then would be very low.”

A November study found that the rate of in-flight coronavirus transmission was just 1 case per 27 million travelers. By comparison, the rate of fatal car crashes in the US is around 12 deaths per 100,000 people.

Keep your mask on as much as possible

Delta Flight Attendant Mask Coronavirus COVID-19
A Delta flight attendant wears a mask.

Aside from getting vaccinated, masks are still our strongest defense against transmission on planes, Sanford said.

A September review found no secondary COVID-19 cases on five Emirates flights with up to 2,000 passengers in total. That’s despite the fact that 58 passengers on the flights had tested positive for the coronavirus. The researchers attributed the lack of transmission to the airline’s strict masking protocol.

Put simply, “the more you wear a mask, the better – the less, the worse,” Sanford said.

Book a nonstop flight

Crowded airport gate
Crowds at Washington Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia on December 18, 2020.

The riskiest parts of traveling, Sanford said, are the steps leading up to a flight: cramming into buses that take you to a terminal or mixing with crowds as you wait to board. He recommended asking a friend to drive you to the airport, then finding a relatively isolated location to post up at your terminal.

If possible, he added, opt for a nonstop flight.

“The more stops, the more people, the more airports, the more mixing,” Sanford said.

Each of these elements increases your risk of infection – even if that risk is slim.

For short flights, eat before you arrive

eating airport
Travelers eat a snack as they wait at Schiphol airport in the Netherlands on March 11, 2020.

US airlines and airports still require masks until at least September 13. But travelers can take off their masks while eating or drinking. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should, though.

Sanford recommended keeping your mask on for the entire duration of a short flight, which would require eating before you arrive at the airport. For longer flights, like Sanford’s recent 13-hour trip from San Francisco to Istanbul, you’ll probably need to eat and drink, though.

“If you’re doing a seven-hour flight, it’s not good not to drink water for seven hours,” Sanford said.

No need to put your mask on between bites, he added.

Seat selection doesn’t matter much

Woman Wearing Mask Sitting In Train - stock photo
A travelers sits next to an empty seat.

Research indicates that blocking off middle seats on planes can lower the risk of transmission on board.

An October preprint, which has yet to be peer reviewed, found that the chance of a passenger in coach contracting COVID-19 on a two-hour domestic flight was 1 in 3,900 if all seats were occupied. But when middles seats were kept empty, that risk went down to 1 in 6,400.

As of May, however, US airlines are no longer blocking off middle seats.

As far as other seating choices go, Sanford said there isn’t much data to suggest that window is better than aisle or vice versa. The research so far is mixed: One December study found that the coronavirus’ secondary attack rate on a domestic flight in Australia was greater among passengers in window seats than in aisle or middle seats. But other studies have found that people in aisle seats have more contact with other travelers during flights, which can increase their risk of infection.

“Things like seat selection have such a negligible, minimal effect on the ultimate risk,” Sanford said.

Splurging on a first-class ticket won’t reduce your risk

Delta Air Lines First Class Phoenix to Minneapolis Boeing 767-400ER
A Delta first-class section on a flight from Phoenix to Minneapolis.

Although seats in first class are spaced farther apart, Sanford said that probably won’t cut your risk of infection.

“I don’t think it’s a huge difference and I would not spring for the money,” he said.

Indeed, a study last year documented an instance of coronavirus transmission in business class. A 27-year-old woman passed the virus to 12 other business-class passengers during a 10-hour commercial flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. The people at highest risk of infection were those less than two seats away from the woman.

Just two passengers in economy class were infected.

Don’t travel to a place where the hospital system is overwhelmed

India coronavirus
A relative of a Covid-19 patient breaks down at LNJP Hospital in New Delhi, India on April 21, 2021

The CDC advises US residents to avoid travel to 140 counties, including those in the European Union. But the agency has suggested that it might be safe for fully vaccinated Americans to travel internationally – with the caveat that they may be at increased risk for getting and spreading variants.

Sanford equated the CDC’s message to “a tepid thumbs down” for international travel. The key concern about traveling abroad, he added, is whether you’d be able to receive proper medical care at your destination.

“It’d be really bad for you and all concerned if you got COVID in India currently, with the healthcare system there full of patients already,” he said.

Still, Sanford added, there’s no need to worry about whether the airport you’re flying into has lots of international travelers.

“I don’t tell people to avoid international hubs,” he said. “I do tell them to avoid crowds.”

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‘Ultra-maskers’ say they’ll keep wearing masks even though they’ve been vaccinated – and perhaps after the pandemic ends

Arizona face mask
Usher Kathy Stock wears a face shield and mask as she waits for fans to enter an MLB spring training game in Arizona in February.

  • Many “ultra-maskers” are refusing to take off their masks even though they’re fully vaccinated.
  • Some want to signal respect for other people or avoid the flu. Others distrust the CDC.
  • Several ultra-maskers said they’ll continue to wear masks in public even after the pandemic is over.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Adrienne Lenhoff started to panic at the airport last week. She was flying from Detroit to Florida to celebrate her grandfather’s 100th birthday, almost a month after her second Moderna shot. But Lenhoff didn’t expect travelers to crowd so close in line – or that middle seats would no longer be kept empty.

“I almost got off the plane,” she told Insider.

It didn’t matter that the airline, Delta, was still requiring masks. Lenhoff would have worn one anyway. In fact, she wore two – and even that didn’t feel like enough.

“Had I known that I was stepping onto a full flight, I probably would have had a face shield on also,” Lenhoff said. She did fly in the end, she added, but mostly “sat there in panic mode.”

Lenhoff is 53 years old and owns a public-relations firm. Like many Americans, she said, she was surprised when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that fully vaccinated people could ditch their masks at indoor and outdoor gatherings of any size – even with unvaccinated people present.

Lenhoff said she plans to keep wearing her mask in public settings indefinitely, especially around those who haven’t been vaccinated yet. She’s worried about how long her vaccine protection will last, and whether new variants will put vaccinated people like her in harm’s way again.

“As restrictions get thrown out the window, or completely relaxed, you don’t know if the person who’s sitting next to you has had their shot or not, where they’ve been, who they’ve been exposed to,” Lenhoff said. “So even somebody like me who has been vaccinated, there is no guarantee that I’m not going to get COVID.”

The current vaccines reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 by around 66% to 95%, depending on which you get. But many “ultra-maskers” – fully vaccinated people who want to keep wearing masks, even in settings where it’s not required – lost trust in the CDC’s recommendations after the agency told people not to wear masks at the start of the pandemic. So they’re not changing their ways now.

Some people who want to keep masking up are also concerned about endangering friends and family who aren’t vaccine-eligible. Others worry that a bare face sends the message that they don’t care about the people around them. Many of these ultra-maskers are considering making face coverings a permanent fixture in their lives, even after the pandemic is over.

“It will be a long time, if ever, before I won’t have a stash of masks in my laptop bag or in my purse,” Lenhoff said.

Many ‘ultra-maskers’ have a hard time trusting the CDC

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Rochelle Walensky removes her mask to speak during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 8, 2020.

Njeri Rutledge, a 50-year-old professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, attended a wedding just days after the CDC announced the new mask guidelines. Rutledge is fully vaccinated, but she kept her mask on the whole time, except when eating.

“I was the only person who walked in with a mask,” she told Insider. “I felt very uncomfortable.”

She became even more frustrated, she said, when she saw maskless guests hugging and shaking hands.

“My husband kept trying to tell me, ‘Well the CDC says it’s OK,’ but the problem is, I don’t trust the CDC anymore,” Rutledge said. “This is the same CDC who said, ‘You don’t need masks, save them for the doctors.’ So they just don’t have a lot of credibility to me.”

Several other ultra-maskers also told Insider that the CDC’s initial flip-flopping on masks is the reason they aren’t heeding the agency’s advice now. A January study found that requiring masks for public-facing US employees starting March 14 (instead of the patchwork of state mandates several weeks – or, in some cases, months – later) could have saved the lives of 34,000 people.

“They put people in a position where we were scrambling, sewing together underwear to make masks because they were all gone,” Rutledge said.

Before considering going maskless in public, she said, she’s waiting until a larger share of the country is vaccinated – and her 11-year-old daughter can get a shot. As an African-American woman, Rutledge added, she’s had to be extra careful, since the pandemic has disproportionately impacted communities of color. Black people have a nearly three times higher risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19 than white people in the US.

“The CDC and the politicians created an environment where everyone is responsible for their own behavior, their own safety,” Rutledge said. “Well, if that’s the case, then I’m going to choose to be as careful as possible.”

Some Americans still see masks as a sign of respect

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A man raises his fist while wearing a Black Lives Matter mask during a demonstration in Amsterdam, Netherlands on May 1.

For Leah Spingarn, a 25-year-old law student at Northeastern University, masks aren’t just about safety – they’re a statement of solidarity.

“I’m a young, healthy person with no pre-existing health conditions. I don’t wear a mask because I’m worried I’m going to die,” Spingarn told Insider. “But I’m very happy to wear one every day that it means someone feels a little more respected.”

Spingarn and others like her see masks as a sign of respect for immunocompromised people who either can’t get vaccinated or for whom vaccines are less effective. Spingarn said that after watching her uncle suffer from ALS, she started to wonder why visitors at hospitals hadn’t covered their faces before the pandemic.

“Why aren’t we wearing masks when we know we’re around really, really sick people, and we know that there’s a chance this could just make it better for someone else?” she said.

Several ultra-maskers also cited the advantages of masks for people who often find themselves victims of harassment – including those who are nonbinary, transgender, and gender-nonconforming, or people with facial differences such as paralysis or a cleft lip. Mask mandates helped many of these individuals remain anonymous in society for the first time.

Andrea Chin, a 32-year-old researcher in Seattle, said she feels safer behind a mask as an Asian-American woman.

“I’ve experienced neighbors and people in my community using racial slurs and threatening physical violence,” she told Insider. “Wearing a mask makes me less nervous about someone spitting in my face, which did happen to me while living in California after the SARS epidemic.”

Spingarn is set to receive her second vaccine dose on Monday. Her university announced this week that by June, it will no longer require fully vaccinated students, faculty, or staff to wear masks indoors. But Spingarn said she plans to continue wearing a mask in the classroom, no matter what her peers do.

“You never know who’s in the room,” she said. “When you talk about COVID or you’re making a decision about wearing a mask, you have no idea how that’s hit the person next to you.”

Masks keep people safe from other seasonal viruses

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Passengers wear masks on Pobeda Airlines’ tour flight over the Golden Ring of Russia, December 20, 2020.

Like many people in the US, Tatyannah King knew several people who died of COVID-19.

“The pandemic made me hyper-aware of mortality in a way that I didn’t think twice about beforehand,” King, a 25-year-old graduate student at Widener University, told Insider. “There are people I knew who have died not too long after contracting COVID, and yet they were around the same age as I am and just as physically healthy as I am.”

Even now that she’s vaccinated, King is struggling to let her guard down.

“At first I was thinking, ‘OK, we’re finally starting to experience the end of this pandemic,'” she said. “But then when I see that people are still dying from it, even recently, it’s a really tough pill to swallow.”

Plus, King added, she’s gotten used to some of the benefits of mask-wearing – like not having to worry as much if people cough or sneeze next to her on airplanes.

“When the temperature checks and mask mandates went into place at the airport, I never saw a sick person on any of my flights,” she said.

She also plans to wear a mask at conferences in the future.

“At nearly every business conference I’ve been to, at least one person would already be sick and then somehow spread their cold to multiple people by the end of the conference,” King said. “It’s so common that it’s almost a running joke at some conferences, like, ‘Hey, don’t forget to stock up on your Vitamin C or you’re definitely going to get the flu.'”

A 2013 study found that masks can reduce the number of viral influenza particles that people shed. Research has also shown that surgical masks reduce transmission of other human coronaviruses. Though the flu and cold are milder than COVID-19, King said, she’d happily wear a mask to avoid them.

“When I’m on flights from now on, until the day I die, I will be wearing a mask,” King said, adding, “even if I look silly, I don’t care – I just don’t want to get sick.”

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Coronavirus infections in the US have fallen below 30,000 daily cases for the first time since last June

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Maryland National Guard Specialist James Truong (R) administers a Moderna coronavirus vaccine at CASA de Maryland’s Wheaton Welcome Center on May 21, 2021 in Wheaton, Maryland.

  • New data shows that daily COVID-19 infections in the US are at their lowest point since last June.
  • The CDC says the seven-day average has dropped below 30,000 cases.
  • The news comes amid more vaccinations, as nearly half the population has received at least one dose.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Daily coronavirus infections in the United States have fallen below 30,000 for the first time since last June, new data shows, revealing continued progress in battling the pandemic.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the seven-day average of daily new cases has plunged to just over 27,700.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a press conference that the seven-day average hasn’t been this low since June 18 of last year.

Data from Johns Hopkins University also showed just 28,000 new cases on Friday, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.

Hospital admissions and deaths are also down. The CDC said the seven-day average for hospital admissions has dropped to 3,400 and deaths are at a new low of 498 per day.

The drop in cases comes amid a rise in vaccinations. CDC data shows that 38.9% of the total US population has been fully vaccinated and 48.9% have received at least one dose. Among those age 18 or older, a whopping 60% have received at least one shot.

“As each week passes and as we continue to see progress, these data give me hope,” Walensky said. “These data are telling us a story: As more and more people roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated, the number of cases and the level of community risk is decreasing.”

Read the original article on Business Insider