Masks and the Lack of Trust in the CDC

After a federal judge ruled that the Biden administration’s mask mandates violate federal law, organizations rushed to declare that they no longer required them to be worn, despite the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) continued recommendation that people wear them.

All the major airlines said they would no longer ask people to wear them. Uber sent out emails saying they no longer require drivers or passengers to wear them. Even the TSA, a federal agency, said it would no longer be enforcing the CDC’s recommendation.

The judge said in the ruling that she was not passing judgment on whether wearing masks was an effective way to reduce the transmission of disease, only that the mandate went beyond the administration’s legal authority.

The reaction to this ruling shows the lack of trust people have in the CDC’s public health advice. The ruling didn’t say masks were not effective, and airlines, Uber, etc., could have continued advising people to wear them even absent the legal requirement. But they didn’t. The reaction to the court ruling shows the widespread lack of public trust in the CDC and the Biden administration.

Before the ruling, people wore masks because they were forced. If you didn’t wear your mask, you would be pulled from your flight and possibly barred from future flights. People were not wearing masks because they thought it was a good idea to protect their health.

I’ve done a fair amount of travel in the past few weeks, to South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Nevada, and I observed that the only place where people wore masks was airports. Sure, a few people wore them in other areas, but the vast majority did not. People were already disregarding the CDC’s advice when they could get away with it.

The CDC might be right, so I’m not passing judgment on whether their advice to mask up is medically sound. I’m observing that most people don’t trust the CDC’s advice, and when they have a choice, they choose to disregard it (with regard to masks, anyway).

Government authority is undermined when people don’t trust the government. Perhaps the widespread disregard of the CDC’s public health advice is a good sign. People will think for themselves and make their own decisions rather than uncritically doing what the government tells them they should do.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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