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Buttigieg confronted on science for face mask mandates on airplanes — he admits it's a 'matter of respect'

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg admitted Sunday that continued face mask requirements on public transportation under the jurisdiction of federal regulators is a "matter of respect" — not science.

Just last month, the Transportation Security Administration extended face mask requirements "across all transportation networks throughout the United States, including at airports, onboard commercial aircraft, on over-the-road buses, and on commuter bus and rail systems through September 13."

The requirement went into effect on Feb. 1, less than two weeks after President Joe Biden's inauguration.

What did Buttigieg say?

Despite proponents of pandemic-related restrictions arguing protective measures are necessary because science supports them, Buttigieg said Sunday that continued restrictions on transportation is not a matter of science at all.

Buttigieg's admission came despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that fully vaccinated people can basically return to normal life, which now includes more than half of all U.S. adults. Most states and municipalities have responded by dropping most, if not all, pandemic related restrictions or announced intentions to do so in the near future.

During an interview on ABC's "This Week," host Martha Raddatz questioned Buttigieg why federal transportation guidelines deviate from CDC recommendations.

Buttigieg claimed "the differences have to do with the physical space" and alleged restrictions are "driven by public health considerations," but said that, ultimately, continuing to wear a face mask and follow pandemic-related restrictions the CDC says are no longer necessary for fully vaccinated Americans is about "respect."

"It's a matter of safety but it's also a matter of respect," Buttigieg said. "And as we get back and as we're so thankful to get back to the skies, to get back on the road, to get back to loved ones, let's make sure we are doing it in a way that we can all be proud of."

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In a separate interview on CNN's "State of the Union," host Jake Tapper asked Buttigieg what science supports continued pandemic restrictions on transportation.

Buttigieg, however, did not directly answer the question, other than restating the premise of the question — that public health rules are currently different on airplanes and trains.

"The Biden administration says you will always follow the science. What science is there that says that a fully vaccinated person needs to wear a mask on a plane or a train or a bus?" Tapper asked.

"The public health guidance is a little bit different for situations like planes and trains," Buttigeg responded.

"Of course, these rules and regulations and these bodies of guidance always evolve with the science," he added. "But the bottom line is, we have a set of rules in place to keep people safe. And I really hope that travelers will respect flight attendants, bus operators, workers, anybody who is simply doing their job to keep people safe."

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