The Travel Mask Mandate Will Be Extended Through May 3

The CDC wants more time to study the new COVID subvariant BA.2.

travelers wearing masks in airport

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If you were hoping to stop wearing masks on planes, trains, and buses, next week, keep holding your breath. According to AP White House reporter Zeke Miller, the Biden administration plans to extend the travel mask mandate for two more weeks. It was due to expire on April 18.

All passengers traveling on public transportation are required to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status—that will now continue to be a requirement through May 3.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reportedly requested the extension to have time to study the new Omicron subvariant BA.2, which is responsible for 86 percent of current COVID infections nationwide. The subvariant has caused a slight uptick in cases—the CDC reports an increase in the seven-day moving average from about 25,000 new cases to nearly 30,000 cases over the past week. Still, that average is far below its peak of about 800,000 new cases in January.

The travel mask mandate is one of the very few mask requirements remaining in the United States—the majority of cities no longer require masks for vaccinated individuals. Philadelphia, however, controversially reinstated a mask policy last week, becoming the first major city to do so due to the BA.2 subvariant.

Given that people are free to go maskless at many crowded events and spaces—for example, sports games, concerts, restaurants, and bars—U.S.–based airlines have long been pushing for the mandate to be dropped. Many European airlines, including British Airways and KLM, have already dropped mask policies unless a flight's final destination requires them.

In an open letter to the White House, the lobbying group Airlines for America (A4A) wrote, "The persistent and steady decline of hospitalization and death rates are the most compelling indicators that our country is well protected against severe disease from COVID-19. Given that we have entered a different phase of dealing with this virus, we strongly support your view that 'COVID-19 need no longer control our lives.' Now is the time for the Administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions—including the international pre-departure testing requirement and the federal mask mandate—that are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment."

The letter was signed by the CEOs of all the major U.S. airlines.

The aviation industry's call for the removal of the mask mandate mimics the arguments made by the cruising industry several months ago after the CDC issued a Level 4 "do not travel" warning for cruises. That warning has since been lifted. Additionally, the federal mask mandate does not impact cruises, and many cruise lines have eased or dropped mask requirements in recent months.

We imagine that airlines—and many travelers—are hoping for the same outcome.

Article Sources
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  1. AP News. "CDC Extends Travel Mask Requirement to May 3 as COVID Rises." April 13, 2022.

  2. Reuters. "Nearly 86% of U.S. COVID Caused by BA.2 Omicron Subvariant - CDC." April 12, 2022.

  3. Washington Post. "Foreign Airlines Are Dropping Mask Mandates. Are U.S. Carriers Next?" March 24, 2022.