National mask mandate critical to business travel resuming

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A national mask mandate is critical for the large-scale resumption of business travel during the coronavirus pandemic, CNBC’s Jim Cramer argued Monday. 

“Unless everyone wears masks and there’s a unified decision from Washington that everyone must wear a mask, I think … corporate travel is just not going to come back the way people think,” Cramer said on “Squawk on the Street.”

Cramer said he believes businesses may be hesitant to welcome into their offices a person, or group of people, who just flew from a city where it’s possible people weren’t wearing a mask. “It’s just too dangerous.”

To avoid those complications, businesses may stick with video conferencing on such services as Zoom and Cisco’s Webex as long as they remains popular,  the “Mad Money” host said. “If you can use Zoom or Webex to get the deal done, and everyone else is using Webex, it means your competition is the same.”

Cramer’s comments Monday came after Delta CEO Ed Bastian told Axios that a national mask mandate would boost the company’s ability to enforce its own policy. Delta, like all major U.S. airlines, requires a mask on board.

“If the government were to mandate it, I think that would help,” Bastian said in an interview that’s set to run Monday night on “Axios on HBO.” “Because if the government were to mandate it, then you can enforce it.”

However, Bastian also told Axios that Delta will not “forcibly remove” someone from a plane who took off their mask.

American Airlines last week temporarily banned a customer who was removed from a flight in New York for refusing to wear a face mask on the plane. 

Airlines were decimated by the Covid-19 outbreak due to stay-at-home mandates and other restrictions on travel. But as states relax restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus, travel has started to pick back up — albeit still far below last year’s figures.

On Sunday, 590,456 went through TSA checkpoints, according to the agency’s data, compared to over 2.7 million a year ago before the outbreak. Sunday’s checkpoint numbers were the highest since March 20, when 593,167 went through security. Some days in April saw less than 100,000 people go through security, TSA data shows.

Business travel is closely watched by investors because it’s generally seen to be more profitable for airlines than leisure travel. “Given the fact that a 1% movement in corporate travel volumes impact airline profitability by 10%, it’s not a crazy supposition to assume that the airline industry will struggle actually to get profitable again,” Mark Manduca, associate director of EMEA research at Citi, told CNBC earlier this month. 

Public health experts now believe wearing a face mask in public can significantly help in limiting the spread of Covid-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends people wear cloth face coverings in “public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”

Sen. John Barrasso, who also is a doctor, told CNBC last week that wearing a mask while on an airplane, as well as in a movie theater, is critical.  “I think people’s increased risk is there. People ought to be wearing masks in those situations,” the Wyoming Republican said. 

Cramer said he is personally hesitant to fly in the absence of a more strict national policy on face coverings. “I very much want to travel but I’m not going to fly until I know that everybody has a mask on because that is how you protect yourself,” he explained. “To have mask optional is like saying, ‘Hey, Covid optional.'”

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