The US government announced on Wednesday that all transportation networks will be extending the mask mandate requirement for planes, trains, buses, and public transportation until at least May 3, 2022.
Travelers especially were expecting to see the end of this rule, as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had already extended this mandate several times and this time it was supposed to end on April 18.
According to the information shared on NPR’s news portal, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), through a spokesperson, explained the precaution: “In order to assess the potential impact the rise of cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity.”
It has already been confirmed that the TSA will also comply with the government’s decision by extending the face-covering requirement for at least two more weeks.
Some travelers might feel frustrated, particularly those who have seen that many airlines have removed the mask measure and that other countries have dropped this rule. However, the US government and local authorities believe that this measure is still necessary, especially considering that COVID cases have increased by around 25% in the past two weeks in several parts of the U.S.
Why The US Government Extended The Mask Mandate
Unfortunately, the omicron subvariant —which now represents 85% of COVID cases in the US— has been spreading quickly across the country. The director of the Center for Public Health Law and Policy at Arizona State University, James Hodge, said these past two weeks have shown that measures must be considered carefully.
Hodge also added: “If we pull this mask mandate, we will have extended numbers of infections — that’s not responsible and that’s counter to the public’s health.”
Local authorities and government agencies have considered a more responsible measure to maintain the passengers wearing face coverings. The TSA also said in a statement: “Since early April 2022, there have been increases in the 7-day moving average of Covid-19 cases in the United States. … TSA will continue to coordinate closely with CDC and communicate any changes to this requirement with the public.”
Pete Buttigieg, Transportation Secretary, during an event in Indiana said on Wednesday: “We have to make sure whatever we do is responsible from a public health perspective. On one hand, we’re in better shape than ever before thanks to the vaccinations that have taken place and the boosters people have got. On the other hand, we have these variants that emerged and we need to keep a close eye on them. So my hope is we are on a path forward, ultimately, leading us out of these mandates.”
Also, an official of Biden’s administration shared with CNN that the government had decided to extend the measure to gather more information and understanding of the variant and the current situation.
Travelers And Airlines Must Comply
Despite being against this measure, travelers must remember that the TSA can fine passengers who refuse to wear face coverings. Those who don’t comply with the measures will be sanctioned, and fines can cost from $500 to $3,000 for repeat offenders.
The mask mandate has been controversial for months and some airlines aren’t happy with the extension of the requirement. The industry group Airlines for America requested the government to remove this requirement in a letter, arguing that the measure is no longer coherent considering the current public health context.
The executives wrote: “It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do.”
It is evident how the mask mandate has polarized opinions across the US, and unruly passengers’ behavior related to this has been a trend in incidents reported by the Federal Aviation Administration. Passengers against the measure insist that it should be an option. The debate will remain for the moment, and within two weeks the government will announce whether or not they have reconsidered the mandate.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories