President Joe Biden’s administration will extend requirements for travelers to wear masks on planes, trains and in transit centers until April 18, as public health authorities review when mask requirements must be dropped, the White House has confirmed.
The decision extends the current requirements, which were due to expire on March 18, by one month.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in statements Thursday that the CDC will work with other government agencies “to help inform a revised policy framework outlining when and under what circumstances, masks should be mandatory in the transit corridor.
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The TSA extension comes at the recommendation of the CDC. The airline and some government officials believe this could be the final nationwide expansion of mask requirements.
Last month, airlines and travel groups called on the administration by March 18 to “repeal the federal mask mandate for public transportation or provide a clear roadmap to remove the mask mandate in 90 days”.
Mask requirements have led to significant friction on US planes. The Federal Aviation Administration says that since January 2021, a record 6,800 unruly passenger incidents have been reported – and 70% involved masking rules.
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Last month, the CDC relaxed its guidelines for wearing masks. U.S. government agencies have dropped mask requirements in Washington-area federal buildings and other locations with low to medium levels of COVID-19.
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The CDC said last week that 93% of the US population is in a place where COVID levels are low enough that people don’t need to wear masks.
United Airlines UAL.O said on Thursday it would allow 2,200 unvaccinated workers to return to their normal shifts as the pandemic recedes.
The administration is also considering lifting requirements that international visitors test negative for COVID-19 within a day of travel, officials said, as many countries have dropped testing requirements. The administration requires foreign air travelers to be vaccinated.
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On Thursday, 31 Republican senators called on the administration to end mask and pre-departure testing requirements. “It’s time for the federal government to recognize this reality, follow the science, and immediately reduce or eliminate these restrictions,” said Sen. Roger Wicker.
The current CDC transit order, which has been in place since shortly after Biden took office in January 2021, has already been extended three times and requires all travelers to wear masks on planes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis and journeys. -shares and transport hubs such as airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and metro stations and seaports.
His predecessor, President Donald Trump, rejected calls from US public health agencies to impose the requirements in transit – even though airlines and some other modes of transportation had demanded masks.
Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration over the mask-carrying warrant.
“Seatbelt laws also took away the ‘freedom’ to choose to drive (or fly) without a seatbelt, but losing that choice was not irreparable harm,” the Justice Department said in response, adding that the court should dismiss Paxton’s lawsuit.
(Reporting by David ShepardsonEditing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Aurora Ellis)