By David Shepardson
President Joe Biden’s administration plans to extend by 15 days a U.S. mandate requiring travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains and in transit hubs, three sources briefed on the matter told Reuters.
Industry groups and Republican lawmakers want the administration to immediately end the 14-month-old mask mandate. The latest extension would keep the requirements, which had been set to expire April 18, in place through May 3 amid an increase in COVID-19 cases. A formal announcement is expected later on Wednesday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first issued a public health order requiring masks in interstate transportation and at transit hubs, including airplanes, mass transit, taxis, ride-share vehicles and trains effective in February 2021. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued a security directive to enforce the CDC order.
Both the CDC and TSA mask requirements have been repeatedly extended.
One of the sources briefed on the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity, noted the uptick in COVID-19 cases. The extension, the source said, will give the CDC time “to assess the potential impact, the rise of cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity.”
New White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha said on Monday that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky would decide whether the mandate should be extended.
Airlines for America, a trade group, on Wednesday in a letter continued to urge Biden’s administration “to lean into science and research, which clearly support lifting the mask mandate. … It makes no sense to require masks on a plane when masks are not recommended in places like restaurants, bars or crowded sports facilities.”
The group cited the CDC’s guidance that nearly all Americans live in counties where they can avoid wearing masks indoors. The CDC in February eased its guidance for face covering.
The U.S. Senate voted 57-40 last month to overturn the public health order requiring masks on airplanes and other forms of public transportation, drawing a veto threat from Biden.
The mask requirements have resulted in friction sometimes on U.S. airplanes. The Federal Aviation Administration said that since January 2021, there have been a record 7,060 unruly passenger incidents reported – and 70% involved masking rules.
The administration has also considering lifting requirements that international visitors get a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel, as many countries have dropped testing requirements, but is not taking any immediate steps. The United States requires foreign air travelers to be vaccinated.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham and Chizu Nomiyama)
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