In a sign that federal officials are increasingly concerned about the growing number of COVID-19 cases driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant, the Transportation Security Administration has extended its face mask requirement for passengers on airline flights and all other forms of public transportation. The new extension will expire January 18, 2022.
The mandate’s extension isn’t surprising given the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. Indeed, the seven-day average of newly reported cases is now more than 140,000 — an increase of 64 percent from two weeks ago and the highest level in more than six months, the Associated Press reports.
What’s more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that it now recommends that Americans, regardless of vaccination status, resume wearing masks in all indoor public places in regions where COVID-19 is spreading quickly. The CDC went on to note that this recommendation applies to more than 90 percent of the counties in the U.S.
“The extension reflects the impact of the highly transmissible Delta variant and is an acknowledgement that transit remains potentially risky, especially for unvaccinated people,” a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokesperson told Reuters in a statement. “The purpose of TSA’s mask directive is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation.”
TSA’s Mask Mandate
The TSA’s mask order, based on CDC guidelines, was first issued in January — days after President Joe Biden took office. That mandate required travelers to wear face masks on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares, as well as while they are at transportation hubs, such as airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations, and seaports.
That original mandate was scheduled to expire on May 11. In April, due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases, the order was extended until September 13.
Penalties for violating the mandate start at $250 and go up to $1,500 for repeat offenders.
Mostly Welcome News
The TSA’s mask mandate extension is welcome news to many people.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, explains that although vaccination has been key to the increasing demand for air travel, lagging vaccination rates and the rise of the Delta variant has caused cases to climb quickly.
“We all look forward to the day masks are no longer required but we’re not there yet,” Nelson said in a statement. “Let’s focus on putting COVID-19 in check together. Get vaxxed, wear a mask, be kind, and come fly with us!”
The mask mandate’s extension notably covers historically busy periods of air travel, such as Thanksgiving and holidays in December.
Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Atmosphere Research Group, told the Associated Press that the extension should reassure potential travelers who are concerned about COVID-19.
“I anticipate it will make them feel more confident about traveling through the fall and winter, including the holiday season,” Harteveldt said. “People who don’t take the virus seriously will probably complain — but they have no choice but to suck it up and wear their masks if they want to take an airline flight somewhere.”
On the other hand, it can only be assumed the mask mandate will continue to meet resistance from a small number of passengers. Earlier this week, the Federal Aviation Administration announced that since January 1, it has received 2,867 reports from airlines of mask-related incidents. Nearly 700 investigations have been initiated.
Know Before You Go
The TSA’s mask mandate requires travelers and the general public to wear masks when using all public modes of transportation when they are in airports, bus and rail stations, as well as while they are on passenger aircraft, commuter trains, buses, ships, or other forms of public transportation. Passengers who do not wear a mask may be denied entry, boarding, or continued transport. What’s more, failure to comply with the mask requirement can result in civil penalties.
You can learn more about the TSA’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic here.