President Joe Biden's administration will extend the federal mask mandate on airplanes, trains, buses, and transit hubs for an additional 30 days, according to a White House official and a TSA official. The federal mask mandate was set to expire March 18 but will be extended to April 18.
This will be the fourth extension of the mask mandate for public transit, airports, and train stations. The original federal mask mandate for commercial and public transportation systems was enacted in February 2021 to comply with Biden's executive order to "encourage widespread mask-wearing and physical distancing on public modes of transportation, consistent with CDC guidelines and applicable law."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will work with government agencies over the next month to develop plans for when the mask mandates could be eased or eliminated.
"At CDC's recommendation, TSA will extend the security directive for mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs for one month, through April 18th," the CDC said in a statement.
"During that time, CDC will work with government agencies to help inform a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor," the health agency stated. "This revised framework will be based on the COVID-19 community levels, risk of new variants, national data, and the latest science."
On Wednesday, the TSA released tips for people traveling during the busy spring break period.
The first recommendation stated: "Continue to wear a face mask. The mask requirement remains in place and TSA will continue to assess the duration of the requirement in consultation with CDC."
Last month, the CDC issued a guidance that recommended that approximately 70% of Americans did not need to wear face masks indoors. Last Thursday, the CDC stated that roughly 93% of the U.S. population could safely unmask in areas of low COVID-19 infections.
Last week, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA – the largest flight attendant union in the U.S. that represents more than 50,000 flight attendants – called for the mask mandate on planes to be extended.
"The conditions in aviation are the same," the union told USA Today. "Our youngest passengers do not yet have access to the vaccine. The airplane is a unique, but controlled environment for everyone's safety. The layered approach to safety and security includes masks. Aviation is a world-wide network that harmonizes safety procedures around the world. It’s also critical that we maintain passenger confidence in the safety of air travel."
Trade group Airlines for America, travel industry associations, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called on President Biden's administration to repeal the public transportation mask mandate by March 18 or "provide a clear roadmap to remove the mask mandate without 90 days."
"Given travel's slow economic recovery, and in light of the improved public health metrics in the U.S. and medical advancements to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID-19, we encourage the administration to immediately remove travel requirements that no longer fit with the current environment and to set clear timelines and metrics for when others will be lifted," the letter addressed to White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeffrey Zients stated.