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CDC to extend transportation mask mandate for another 2 weeks

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Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Reports indicate that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will extend the mask requirement for airplanes and other forms of public transportation for an additional two weeks as health officials monitor rising COVID-19 cases.

The mask mandate was set to expire April 18 but will instead be extended for 14 days more as some parts of the country report rising coronavirus cases caused by the BA.2 Omicron subvariant. This strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 is highly contagious and first spread in Europe, but scientists have not observed the variant to be deadlier than previous coronavirus variants.

The Associated Press reported that the extension of the mandate is being made out of an abundance of caution and that the new expiration date for the masking requirements is May 3, 2022.

CNN corroborated the report, quoting a Biden administration official who said that the government wants to gather more information on the BA.2 variant before lifting the masking requirements on planes, trains, buses, and public transportation hubs like airports or bus terminals.

"Since early April, there have been increases in the 7-day moving average of cases in the US. In order to assess the potential impact, the rise of cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity, CDC is recommending that TSA extend the security directive to enforce mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs for 15 days, through May 3, 2022," the official told CNN.

"This will give additional time for the CDC to learn more about BA.2 and make a best-informed decision," the official added.

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said Monday that the CDC is developing a scientific framework that will guide its decision-making on mask mandates and other coronavirus restrictions moving forward.

The federal public transportation mask mandate has been widely criticized as state mask mandates have come down following guidance from the CDC. Public opposition to the masking requirements has led to some violent altercations on airplanes when passengers refuse to abide by the rules.

Though COVID-19 cases have risen in recent weeks, now averaging 38,345 cases per day according to Johns Hopkins University, the daily average case rate is still one of the lowest observed since mid-July, before the Delta and Omicron surges.

According to the Associated Press, severe illnesses and deaths reporting lags behind case reports by several weeks. The CDC is reportedly waiting for these indicators to show whether an increase in cases correlates to a rise in adverse outcomes before ending the mask mandate.

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