US extends public transportation mask mandate through JANUARY, citing Delta variant threat

Wearing of face coverings on planes, trains and public transportation of any kind in the US will be mandatory through at least mid-January 2022, the Biden administration has announced, citing the spread of Covid-19.

Originally imposed on February 1 as part of President Joe Biden’s “Mask Up America!” plan to defeat the virus in 100 days, the mandate was extended in April and set to expire on September 13. On Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) informed the media that it will be extended through January 18 next year.

“The purpose of TSA’s mask directive is to minimize the spread of Covid-19 on public transportation,” the agency said in an email. 

This means the original 100-day mandate will have been in effect for at least 351 days, and is highly likely it will get extended again.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA has praised the extension, with its president Sara Nelson saying it “will help tremendously to keep passengers and aviation workers safe.” Her comments echoed the statements of airline-related professional associations that applauded the measure in April.

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The mandate has been far less popular with passengers, however. According to the data disclosed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday, nearly three quarters of incidents this year – 2,867 out of 3,889 – involved disputes over masks.

The transit masking mandate is unrelated to the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC told vaccinated Americans they could unmask in May, but backtracked on that advice in July – again citing the Delta variant, said to be more contagious than the previous strands of Covid-19. Currently, 94% of US counties have been advised by the CDC to mandate face coverings, regardless of vaccination status.

Meanwhile, Denmark has recently lifted its masking requirements on public transit, citing the Scandinavian country’s high vaccination rate of 60% and falling number of Covid-19 cases. The Danes will continue wearing masks at airports and on planes, however, as they have been required by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) policy, developed jointly with the World Health Organization (WHO) last year. 

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