The Federal Aviation Administration proposed fines of up to $15,000 for five airline passengers accused of interfering with and assaulting flight attendants.
The FAA announced passengers on JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, and Southwest Airlines engaged in aggressive behavior, including hitting, yelling, and shoving, with flight attendants.
One passenger fined $15,000 shoved a flight attendant when the worker had walked down the aisle to document which passengers were not wearing face masks, the FAA said in a release. Another passenger who was fined $10,500 yelled and shouted profanities at a flight attendant after they asked him to put on a face mask.
The agency said it has 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.
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Flight attendants recently told Insider the pandemic has made passengers more aggressive and less patient due in part to enforcing mask requirements on board.
President Joe Biden signed an executive order on January 21 making face masks mandatory on airlines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said both vaccinated and unvaccinated people must keep masks on in airports and on public transportation.
Passengers who receive a proposed penalty for unruly behavior have 30 days to respond, a FAA spokesperson told Insider.
Within the 30 days, the spokesperson said passengers can pay the full penalty, provide documentation and request a lower penalty, provide documentation showing they are financially unable to pay the fine, provide information indicating the violation did not occur, ask to meet with the FAA to discuss the case, or appeal the judge’s decision to the FAA Administrator.
If passengers do not respond within 30 days, the FAA sends a Final Notice of Proposed Civil Penalty.
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
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
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
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.”
Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia refused to wear a face mask on the House floor on Wednesday, continuing her protest against mask-wearing requirements.
Greene isn’t alone. Several other Republican lawmakers also openly defied House rules on Tuesday evening, appearing maskless while casting votes on the floor, according to C-SPAN footage. The Capitol physician, Brian Monahan, decided last week that House members must continue wearing masks on the House floor until all members and floor staffers are fully vaccinated.
Because at least 100 GOP House members haven’t said whether they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, it’s unclear whether they are violating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new guidance that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks indoors. Nine of the 10 GOP lawmakers cited for violating the rules haven’t said whether they’ve been vaccinated, according to a recent CNN survey. Greene refuses to reveal whether she’s gotten the shot.
In accordance with House rules, Greene will receive a warning for her first violation, along with Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Chip Roy of Texas, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Bob Good of Virginia, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Mary Miller of Illinois, multiplenewsoutlets reported.
GOP Reps. Brian Mast of Florida, Beth Van Duyne of Texas, and Mariannette Miller-Meeks of Iowa, who also flouted the rules and had already received their first warnings, will face a $500 fine, per the reports. Additional offenses would result in a $2,500 fine.
Under current rules, all House lawmakers must wear a face-covering on the floor except for when speaking, debating, or presiding over House proceedings. Fines for refusing to wear a mask were established by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the wake of the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6, when several members sheltered-in-place together and many were maskless. At least a handful of lawmakers later tested positive for COVID-19.
Although the fine will be deducted from the member’s congressional salary, some lawmakers are calling on their supporters to make donations. Mast asked voters in an email to contribute to his “fight against Pelosi and the Washington Lockdown Cheerleading Squad” which is “going to get expensive FAST,” Punchbowl News reported on Wednesday. The Iowa Republican Party, on behalf of Miller-Meeks, also tweeted a donation link “to help us fight back and retire Pelosi in 2022.”
The GOP mask protest comes after the CDC last Thursday announced fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks indoors or outdoors at gatherings of any size, except in healthcare settings, on public transportation, at homeless shelters, and at airports. Private companies may still enforce mask mandates as they see fit.
Pelosi said last Thursday the House rule would stay in place despite the CDC’s guidance, noting not all lawmakers had been fully vaccinated yet.
But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is expected to force a vote on a resolution to revise the mask guidelines on Wednesday night. But the resolution is expected to be tabled by Democrats.
“The continued House mask mandate sends the erroneous message that the efficacy of the vaccines cannot be trusted,” the GOP resolution says. “Members of the House of Representatives have a responsibility to send a message to the American people that we can trust the safety and efficacy of the available COVID-19 vaccines.”
Some states had already lifted mask requirements, and many others followed after the latest release from the CDC. New Jersey is the only state that will continue to require masks for vaccinated people in most settings.
Businesses also updated their own individual guidelines. Walmart, Costco, Starbucks, and other retailers said that fully vaccinated customers won’t need masks unless required by local guidelines.
New York state, where I live, lifted mask requirements on May 19.
For the first time in over a year, I walked inside a public building without wearing a mask or any other face covering.
It felt so strange, almost like being naked in public.
As I walked past the greeter, who was wearing a mask, I momentarily worried that he was going to chastise me or not let me enter.
The only noticeable difference between today and last week was that signs noting mask requirements were removed from the entrance.
At least 90% of the people I saw during my shopping trip were masked up. Some even wore two masks.
I felt like some other masked customers gave me a second glance or confused look, but it could also be that I was self-conscious for my first mask-less outing in a year.
Walmart says that fully vaccinated workers don’t need to wear masks either, though every single employee I saw was masked up.
I’m so grateful to be fully vaccinated and I felt completely safe going maskless.
The discomfort for me was more about what other people would think about me.
Of course, I know I’m fully vaccinated, but I don’t want other people to think that I’m being selfish, especially workers who have to be there and interact with hundreds of strangers each day.
While I was in the store, I heard several announcements about vaccine availability and walk-in visits. I think it’s likely that many of the other shoppers were vaccinated.
Just like wearing masks took some getting used to, so will not wearing them. I expect to see fewer people wearing masks in about a week.
It’s also worth noting that I went the first morning restrictions lifted. As a reporter, I spend hours tuned into news coverage, but the average shopper stopping to grab a few things might not have seen what date the new rules went into effect.
I’ll continue going maskless where it is safe to do so (most places besides public transportation), but I think I’ll carry a mask in my bag forever, just in case.
On Monday May 24, Amazon will nix its mask requirement for fully vaccinated operations employees in the US. Exceptions will apply to employees in states or localities that retain mask mandates. In communications sent to workers, the e-commerce giant said that “all other COVID-19 Safety protocols remain the same at this time.”
The company sent out a push notification on its internal A to Z app that said maskless employees must be “14 or more days past your final dose of vaccine (the second dose in a 2-dose series for Pfizer or Moderna or single dose for Johnson & Johnson) and have a copy of your vaccine card.”
Amazon isn’t alone in changing its policies. Most states are relaxing their mask rules, and plenty of brick-and-mortar retailers, including Costco, are dropping mask requirements for shoppers, and Walmart has extended the policy to vaccinated employees as well.
In terms of rolling out its new policy, Amazon is asking workers to enter their vaccine information onto the A to Z app, as well as claim their $40 per dose benefit. Currently, the company also has listed a number of regions where masks will still be required, for the time being, regardless of employees’ vaccination status.
Amazon plans to distribute badge stickers of green check marks to vaccinated workers in early June. By mid-June, the company will ask its workers to upload images of their vaccine cards to A to Z.
“A HUGE thank you to everyone who has and continues to prioritize our COVID-19 safety measures,” the message to employees read. “The last 14 months have not always been easy, but your dedication continues to be appreciated by leaders and customers across the country. We cannot wait to see your smile.”
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An Amazon executive said eliminating mask mandates for fully vaccinated people will reduce vaccine hesitancy.
Dave Clark, Amazon’s chief executive officer of consumer business, praised the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s decision to recommend fully vaccinated people to stop wearing masks in most places.
“I think the guidance we just got from the CDC is big,” Clark said during the US Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Global Forum on Economic Recovery on May 18. “This ability to be able to, if you’ve been vaccinated, not wear a mask indoors I think is going to go a long way to help reduce hesitancy.”
Clark said he heard frontline Amazon workers question why they need to get vaccinated if they’ve been coming to work for months and still need to social distance. But getting vaccination clinics on Amazon work sites had led to a 20% increase in the number of employees getting shots, Clark said.
“People needed to see and hear that there was actually a path forward,” Clark added. “I think as that picture becomes clearer, you’re going to see more and more people, I hope, shift and go take the vaccine.”
Following the CDC’s recommendation to ease COVID restrictions for fully vaccinated people, major retailers like Target, Walmart, and Costco said they will not require fully vaccinated shoppers to wear masks. Amazon has not yet announced whether it will change mask policies in warehouses and fulfillment centers based on the CDC guidance.
More than 122 million US adults have been fully vaccinated as of May 18, representing 47% of the adult population, per the CDC. Cases of COVID-19 are steadily declining in the US, and hospitalizations due to the disease have record lows in New York and California.
The CDC recommends fully vaccinated people still wear masks in healthcare settings, homeless shelters, public transportation, and airports, and allowed private companies to enforce mask rules as they see fit.
The new rules put retail workers in a bind. For some, ending confrontations with customers over masks is a welcome respite after a difficult year, but others remain worried about contracting COVID-19 and low vaccination rates.
Starbucks pointed Insider to the company’s updated COVID-19 response page, which says that face coverings are optional for fully vaccinated customers beginning Monday, May 17. Employees will continue to be required to wear double masks.
A Starbucks worker in Connecticut told Insider that she is concerned as a “chronically ill and high-risk barista,” and is considering leaving her job over mask mandates lifting. The worker and others cited in this story spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly on the topic, and their employment was confirmed by Insider.
Masks are technically still required for unvaccinated customers, but in practice workers can’t police each person’s vaccination status.
A barista in Michigan who works at a Starbucks near a hospital shared concerns about the potential spread of the virus among immunocompromised patients.
“We can’t verify if the people coming in without a mask have been vaccinated or not, and we’re outside of a hospital so people with compromised immunities have to share spaces with people who have no mask on,” the worker said. “I’m worried we’re going to end up with another spike in cases.”
At the same time, many Starbucks workers have shared in interviews and on social media message boards that they are ready to end uncomfortable confrontations with customers over masks.
“It isn’t like the system was great when we were enforcing masks,” the Michigan barista said. “We still had people take masks down to talk to us, people who only wore face shields and would talk over the espresso bar, and kids who put their hands on everything and had no mask on at all.”
A Pennsylvania employee said that she and her coworkers struggled to enforce mask mandates prior to the revised CDC guidance.
Store management did not confront customers who refused to wear masks, and that made other employees uncomfortable when it came to enforcing the mandates, she said.
“We should not have to put ourselves in that situation and we should be able to ask disruptive customers to leave,” she said.
The past year has exposed the massive demands put on retail workers, often for relatively low pay and few benefits, even as they were called heroes and essential workers. While tasked with enforcing mask mandates and interacting with customers during the height of a pandemic, many workers reported abuse, harassment, and assault on the job. A West Coast barista told Insider that she was “punched by a grown man” for asking him to wear a mask before restrictions were lifted.
These conflicts in customer-facing jobs over the past year have helped fuel a mass exodus from the retail industry as a growing number of openings in the labor market are making it easier for retail workers to transition to new careers.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said people who are vaccinated against COVID-19 don’t need to wear masks outside, backing up earlier guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBS’ “This Morning,” “We’ve got to make that transition.”
“If you are vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a mask outside,” he added. “It would be a very unusual situation, if you were going into a completely crowded situation where people are essentially falling all over each other, then you wear a mask. But any other time, if you’re vaccinated and you’re outside, put aside your mask. You don’t have to wear it.”
Smith said there was “widespread frustration” with the changing CDC guidance, and asked: “Has the CDC lost its sort of lofty perch and if so, how do you plan to get it back?”
Walensky said: “These issues are complex, the science is evolving, the science is moving, and we are following the science each and every day and our guidance is evolving as the science evolves.”
Walensky said masks were still advised for people indoors, even if fully vaccinated, because it was not clear if the vaccine worked against COVID-19 variants, or whether vaccinated people were asymptomatic carriers.
Walensky said that CDC guidelines on masks would change again soon, following the agency’s approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in 12 to 15-year-olds on Wednesday.
“I’m really enthusiastic about updating them very soon,” Walensky told Smith, but did not say how guidance would change.
The CDC director described the rollout of the vaccine among 17 million eligible adolescents as a “game changer” for control of the disease.
Public health experts have also criticized the CDC’s conservative approach. Dr Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, said that gaining public trust was crucial, because some restrictions may need to be reintroduced in the winter if cases surge.
“The only way to earn public credibility is to demonstrate that you’re willing to relax these provisions when a situation improves,” Gottlieb said in an interview with CNBC.
The TSA on Friday extended its requirement that travelers wear masks in airports and on commercial flights until September 13.
“The federal mask requirement throughout the transportation system seeks to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation,” said Darby LaJoye, a senior official performing the duties of the TSA Administrator, in a statement.
The mandate had been set to expire on May 11. It requires most travelers over the age of two to wear masks aboard flights, trains, or buses. It includes time spent in transit hubs, train stations, and airports.
Travelers who have refused to wear masks have been kicked off flights, sometimes accompanied by cheers from other passengers. Last month, Alaska Airlines said it banned a GOP state senator in Alaska after she refused to comply with mask requirements.