Twenty years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, people in the United States still put up with the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) airport security theater. While the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually peter out, will its health and safety mandates become hygiene theater for decades to come?

TSA security policies and COVID-19 health and safety mandates are eerily similar in two regards. Both were implemented in environments of widespread fear and panic, and both create hassles that purport to decrease risks that are, at least now, very small for the vast majority of Americans.

A report by the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowrasteh on the risk of terrorism found that terrorists killed 3,518 people in the United States between 1975 and 2017. Most of those deaths (about 3,000) were a result of the 9/11 attacks. Even with those deaths included, the annualized risk of death from a terrorist attack is about one in 3.3 million. The annual risk of being killed in a homicide during this same time decreased from 9.5 to 4.6 per 100,000 people.

Some people claim that security measures implemented in response to the 9/11 attacks are responsible for keeping these numbers so low. When making his agency’s 2019 budget request, TSA administrator David Pekoske claimed that “since September 11, 2001, there have been no successful attacks on the U.S. aviation system” and that “since 9/11 we have taken bold and unprecedented steps to ensure the security of aviation.”