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CDC Announces Two-Week Extension to Travel Mask Mandate

The mandate was set to expire on April 18

The federal transportation mask mandate will stay in place for an additional 15 days. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited a desire to continue to monitor the BA.2 subvariant of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 and has directed the Transportation Security Administration to keep the security directive in place.

“Today, CDC is announcing two COVID-19 travel-related updates based on close-monitoring of the COVID-19 landscape in the United States and internationally,” the agency said in its April 13 statement. “The CDC Mask Order remains in effect while CDC assesses the potential impact of the rise of cases on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and healthcare system capacity.”

The agency said it will also update its Travel Health Notice system for international destinations.

“To help the public understand when the highest level of concern is most urgent, this new system will reserve Level 4 travel health notices for special circumstances, such as rapidly escalating case trajectory or extremely high case counts, emergence of a new variant of concern, or healthcare infrastructure collapse,” noted the CDC.

Under the mandate, any passenger on any form of public transportation, including buses, subways, trains, and ferries, must wear a mask.

The mandate has been a source of conflict for many industry professionals and passengers.

In 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration recorded more than 4,290 mask-related unruly passenger incidents. There have been 744 mask-related incidents reported this year as of April 12.

“The repercussions for passengers who engage in unruly behavior can be substantial,” the organization notes. “They can be fined by the FAA or prosecuted on criminal charges.”

The April 18 deadline was set after a previous delay in the mandate’s repeal. The Transportation Security Administration extended the mask mandate at the CDC’s recommendation on March 10 for an additional month. 

“During that time, CDC will work with government agencies to help inform a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor,” the agency wrote in a statement. “This revised framework will be based on the COVID-19 community levels, risk of new variants, national data, and the latest science. We will communicate any updates publicly if and/or when they change.”

Massachusetts Senator Ed Malarkey advocated for the travel mask mandate to be extended.

In a letter to CDC director Rochelle Walensky in late March, Malarkey said masks were an important tool in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“Although cases of COVID-19 in the United States have declined from this winter’s peak, the virus continues to pose a threat to the public, particularly for seniors, the immunocompromised, and individuals with disabilities,” Markey wrote. “The emergence of a new and even more transmissible variant only confirms that COVID remains a serious, ongoing danger. For that reason, I urge CDC to consider extending its mask order and continue requiring masks on public and commercial transportation.”

The senator did not suggest a specific amount of time for the proposed extension.

The Johns Hopkins University Cornavirus Resource Center indicates that the daily number of COVID-19 cases peaked in mid-January at just over 807,000. The average number of daily cases has declined continuously and was 23,370 per day as of April 12.

The two-week extension makes the mandate’s new expiration date May 3. 

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