The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it is extending the nationwide mask requirement for airplanes and public transit for 15 days as it monitors an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it was extending the order, which was set to expire on April 18th, until May 3rd to allow more time to study the BA.2 Omicron subvariant that is now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the U.S. “In order to assess the potential impact the rise of cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity, the CDC order will remain in place at this time,” the agency said in a statement.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which enforces the rule for planes, buses, trains, and transit hubs, extended the requirement last month, saying the CDC had been hoping to roll out a more flexible masking strategy that would have replaced the nationwide requirement.
BREAKING NEWS: TSA extends face mask requirement through May 3, 2022. TSA will extend the Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs for 15 days through May 3, 2022. https://t.co/rY9W7Xkvcb pic.twitter.com/7cZ2stanEF
— TSA (@TSA) April 13, 2022
The Biden administration separately also extended a public health emergency that has been in effect since early 2020 for an additional 90 days, which will allow for the temporary continuation of a range of public health measures that have broad support, from more generous Medicaid coverage to flexibility around telehealth.
I'm truly grateful for the mask mandate travel extension, but until Covid gets more under control this shouldn't be up for discussion. https://t.co/mQiEaQNtqd
— Peter Morley (@morethanmySLE) April 13, 2022
It’s going to be an unpopular decision for some within the travel industry, including the major airlines. Airlines initially imposed their own mask mandates in 2020, when the Trump administration declined to take action. Unions representing flight attendants, which once backed mask rules, now decline to take a position because their members are divided over the issue. The masking requirements for travelers were the target of months of lobbying from the airlines, who sought to kill it. The carriers argued that effective air filters on modern planes make transmission of the virus during a flight highly unlikely. Republicans in Congress also fought to kill the mandates.
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) April 13, 2022
Ed Bastian, the CEO of Delta Air Lines, said that some people might start flying if they don’t have to wear a mask, and others might stop flying if other passengers are unmasked. He called both groups “fringe,” and he predicted that many people will continue to wear masks even if the rule is dropped.
— Forbes (@Forbes) April 13, 2022
As for the broader public health emergency just extended by the Department of Health and Human Services, the administration has promised to give states 60 days’ notice before ending it.