Federal Transportation Mask Mandate Extended Into 2022

Federal Transportation Mask Mandate Extended Into 2022

LAURIE BARATTI | TravelPulse.Com

Troy Warren for CNT #Travel

 

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today confirmed that it will extend the current U.S. federal mask mandate, which applies in air travel and other public transportation situations, through January 18, 2022.

According to Reuters, officials from the TSA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today briefed representatives of major airlines on the development during a call.

“The purpose of TSA’s mask directive is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation,” the TSA said in a statement, according to CNBC.

Prior to today’s announcement, the mask requirement had been set to expire on September 13, following a previous extension of its original May 11 expiration date.

But, with the highly infectious Delta variant fueling a fresh wave of new cases all across the U.S., the CDC and TSA have decided it’s too risky to do away with the mandate anytime soon. The extension will cover busy upcoming travel periods like Thanksgiving and the winter holidays to mitigate some of the concern over the Delta variant’s continuing spread.

“The emerging evidence about the Delta variant demonstrates it is more formidable than the original virus. Delta spreads more than twice as easily from one person to another, compared with earlier strains,” the CDC said in a statement, according to CNN. “In contrast to the Alpha strain, new data show that fully vaccinated people who are infected with the Delta variant might be infectious, and might potentially spread the virus to others.”

The rising infection numbers really speak for themselves. In the U.S. the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases being reported daily now exceeds 140,000—up 64 percent from just two weeks ago and the highest level seen in more than six months.

CDC guidance had lately been updated to recommend that unvaccinated individuals continue to wear masks in indoor public spaces, while vaccinated persons could safely go maskless. But, the rise of the Delta variant caused the agency to reverse course on July 27, re-recommending that everyone continue to wear face coverings in public places, regardless of vaccination status.

The federal transportation mask mandate applies to all indoor areas of public conveyances or transportation hubs, including airplanes, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares, ferries, trolleys and cable cars. CDC guidance states that “the travel environment presents a unique set of circumstances based on the number and close interaction of travelers (both vaccinated and unvaccinated)”.

U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes issued a statement in support of the mask mandate’s extension.

“Extending the federal mask mandate for travel makes sense for the current health environment and has the travel industry’s full support,” she said. “The universal wearing of masks in airports and on airplanes, trains and other forms of public transportation is both an effective safeguard against spreading the virus, and boosts public confidence in traveling—both of which are paramount for a sustained economic recovery.”

Sara Nelson, President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, a union representing almost 50,000 flight attendants across 17 airlines, also voiced her support of the extension.

“While vaccination has been key to the increased air travel demand, the lagging vaccination rates and rise of the Delta variant has caused cases to skyrocket again—threatening lives, continued virus mutation and recovery from this pandemic.” She added, “We all look forward to the day masks are no longer required, but we’re not there yet.”

Flight attendants have been the front-line enforcers of the mask mandate since it took effect on February 1, and have borne the brunt of belligerent, and sometimes violent, pushback from an unprecedented number of passengers over the past six months.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today disclosed that U.S. airlines have collectively reported 3,889 incidents involving unruly passengers this year, with 2,867 (or 74 percent of those) entailing flyers’ refusal to wear a mask. TSA also told Congress last month that there have been over 85 physical assaults on TSA officers since the start of the pandemic.

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By Troy Warren

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