TSA Extends Travel Mask Mandate Through April 18
The Transportation Security Administration is extending the current mandate for mask use on public transportation and in transportation hubs through April 18.
The mandate had been set to expire on March 18.
The extension is based on a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a statement Thursday, TSA said the CDC will work on a "revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor."
Like recent guidance regarding masks in other settings, the CDC says any revision will be based on the levels of COVID-19 at the community level, as well as on the risk of new variants, national data and the latest science.
The agency left the door open to an earlier termination of the policy, should the science support that.
The travel extension comes two weeks after the CDC relaxed its mask guidance for communities where hospitals aren't under high strain, and as states around the country — and across the political spectrum — have relaxed a number of precautionary measures, including on indoor mask usage.
Citing the changing guidelines surrounding hospitalization rates and local pandemic requirements, a number of travel industry stakeholders had hoped to see the mask mandate expire on the original March 18 cutoff.
A Feb. 25 letter to Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, asked that the Biden administration repeal the travel mask mandate and roll back other precautionary travel measures.
Dr. Shruti Gohil, a professor of medicine at UC Irvine's School of Medicine, tells our newsroom's public affairs show AirTalk, which airs on 89.3 KPCC, that the CDC will need some time to work out new masking guidelines for travelers.
"It makes perfect sense to me, to take certain locations where people are potentially packed in together in a crowded situation to just exercise a bit of judgment," Gohil said, "We've learned that masks work, and so let's put them on in certain scenarios — at least until we have a really strong sense that we have reached some type of stable prevalence in incidents."
A reminder: Mask mandates being lifted does not mean you can't keep wearing a mask. Here are some tips on how to do it correctly: I'm A One-Way Masker. What Strategy Will Give Me Optimal Protection?
"With declining hospitalization rates, increased immunity, widely available vaccines and cutting-edge treatments on the horizon, America is reaching an inflection point where endemic-focused policies can replace pandemic-driven restrictions," said the letter, which was signed by Airlines for America, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Travel Association.
The trade organizations represent some of the biggest players in the U.S. travel industry, including airlines American, Delta and United, and hotel companies Marriott and Hilton.
"As leading U.S. travel and business organizations, we respectfully urge the Administration to chart a clear course for replacing pandemic-era travel advisories, requirements and restrictions with endemic focused policies of a 'new normal' that enable travel to resume fully, freely and safely," the letter said.
Among its recommendations, the travel organizations asked that the White House collaborate internationally to "normalize" travel conditions and entry requirements."