Airline and public transportation mask requirements will be extended for another month, until mid-April, while steps are taken to eliminate the restriction.
The TSA announced Thursday that it will extend the mask requirement until April 18.
The extra month will allow the CDC to draught new, more targeted rules that reflect the amount of COVID-19 cases nationally and locally, as well as the risk of new variations.
The rule applies to flights, buses, trains, and transit hubs.
The CDC no longer recommends face masks in public indoor settings since over 98 percent of Americans live in low or medium COVID-19 case zones.
In recent weeks, several states, including those governed by Democratic governors, have modified their own restrictions for wearing masks indoors, and the CDC has loosened its own guidelines.
The CDC allows maskless people to meet in movie theatres and sports venues but not on planes.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Thursday that recommending travel policies was more difficult than recommending local communities.
“Moving from one zone to another and picking people up… is a little bit different, and it takes some consultation,” Psaki added.
“But also the epidemiology and the frequency that we may encounter a variant of concern or interest in our travel corridors,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky last week.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee, expressed disappointment.
“The science is against this,” he stated. A day before, Wicker and 30 other Republican senators asked Biden to repeal the mask rule and the requirement that travellers test negative for COVID-19.
Airlines for America, a trade group representing major US airlines, requested the administration to repeal both laws.
Flights, subways, and buses are all places where people congregate in large numbers, increasing the danger of virus transmission, according to Dr. Graham Snyder of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
A short-term extension of the regulation is appropriate, but a decline in COVID-19 cases will be difficult to reverse, according to Columbia University infectious disease expert Stephen Morse. “A month may not be enough,” he warned, citing the pandemic’s numerous shocks.
In January 2021, shortly after President Joe Biden entered office, the federal mask mandate was extended numerous times. To reassure travellers worried about getting the illness, airlines began enforcing masks in mid-2020.
The Transportation Security Administration increased the punishment for refusing to wear a mask on public transportation from $1,000 to $3,000 in September.
This condition sparked a fight between some passengers and airline employees. Airlines have reported over 6,000 disruptive passengers since the start of 2021, most of them over masks. After the federal mandate expires, airlines may not require masks.
“I don’t believe the airlines want to impose their own rules on a public tired of them,” said Henry Harteveldt, an Atmosphere Research Group travel analyst.
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“I noticed some passengers who did not wear their masks even when not eating or drinking, and the flight attendants did not instruct them to put them on,” Harteveldt stated.
Historically, flight attendants favoured masks as a health-protective measure. They mainly backed the government rule over an airline policy.
The Association of Flight Attendants, their largest union, refuses to take a position on extending the mandate beyond March 18.
The rule’s retention seemed to support airlines’ and aircraft manufacturers’ claims that high-quality filtration and powerful air movement rendered virus transmission uncommon in airliner cabins.
Southwest Airlines CEO told Congress in December that masks “don’t add much, if anything,” to aviation safety, a claim promptly refuted by experts.
David Neeleman, co-founder of JetBlue and currently CEO of Breeze Airways, said passengers should wear N95 masks if they are uncomfortable, but they should not be required.
“I wish it would expire on March 18th,” Neeleman told the AP. “It stresses our flight crews and our passengers.”
Shannon Schreyer of Ogden, Utah, opposes the law.
“I haven’t seen any effectiveness,” he replied, his mask dangling below his mouth at Detroit Metro Airport. “I think the masks have always been a massive facade. We’re over COVID.”
Some travellers are baffled by the whole mask craze.
I don’t mind taking the bus, train or plane,” said Natalie Johnston, an incoming University of Michigan student from Philadelphia. “I don’t think it’s that big.”