The federal face mask mandate has been extended through May 15 so that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can assess the impact that the highly infectious COVID-19 BA.2 subvariant is likely to have on hospitalizations and deaths, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced on Wednesday afternoon.
The news was confirmed with less than six days before the controversial mask mandate was due to expire after already being extended on several occasions. The last extension through April 18 was for a period of one month and was meant to give the CDC time to work out a new ‘framework’ for managing COVID-19 on public transport.
Announcing the news on behalf of the CDC and as the agency charged with enforcing the mandate, the TSA said the latest extension would be for a period of just 15 days to enable further assessment of BA.2 and its impact on the United States. The mandate could be extended yet again if hospitalisations start to tick upwards.
“CDC continues to monitor the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, especially the BA.2 subvariant that now makes up more than 85% of U.S. cases,” the TSA said in a statement announcing the extension.
“Since early April 2022, there have been increases in the 7-day moving average of COVID-19 cases in the United States. During the 15-day extension period, CDC will assess the potential impact the recent rise of COVID-19 cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations, deaths, and healthcare system capacity.”
“TSA will continue to coordinate closely with CDC and communicate any changes to this requirement with the public,” the statement continued.
The aviation and travel industry is likely to react with fury to the news after lobbying the Biden administration over the last several weeks for the mandate to be lifted immediately. In March, a group of airline executives including the CEOs of American, Delta and United Airlines wrote to President Biden urging him to scrap the federal face mask mandate, alongside pre-departure testing rules for international travelers.
On Wednesday, the head of industry lobby group Airlines For America again wrote to CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky arguing that the mandate was no longer “supported by data and science”. Within hours of publishing the letter, the CDC extended the mandate.
The move, however, was not unexpected. Several days ago, new White House Covid czar Ashish Kumar Jha said an extension was “absolutely on the table”, although details of the new framework were expected to be published imminently. The CDC is yet to provide further details.
A growing list of countries have dropped public transport face mask rules in recent weeks including Norway, England, and Switzerland.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.