US to extend airplane, transit mask mandate through April 18

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s administration will extend requirements for travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains and in transit hubs through April 18 as public health authorities review when mask requirements should be dropped, the White House confirmed.

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The move extends the current requirements that were set to expire March 18 by a month.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in statements Thursday that CDC will work with other 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 TSA extension comes at the CDC’s recommendation. Airline and some government officials think this could be the last nationwide extension of the mask requirements.

Airlines and travel groups last month called on the administration by March 18 to “repeal the Federal mask mandate for public transportation or provide a clear roadmap to remove the mask mandate within 90 days.”

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The mask requirements have resulted in significant friction on US airplanes. The Federal Aviation Administration says since January 2021, there have been a record 6,800 unruly passenger incidents reported — and 70% involved masking rules.

The CDC last month eased its guidance for wearing masks. US government agencies have dropped mask requirements in federal buildings in the Washington area and other places with low or medium levels of COVID-19.

The CDC said last week that 93% of the US population is in a location where COVID levels are low enough that people do not need to wear masks.

United Airlines said Thursday it would allow 2,200 unvaccinated workers to return to their normal positions as the pandemic recesses.

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The administration is also considering lifting requirements that international visitors get a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel, officials said, as many countries have dropped testing requirements. The administration requires foreign air travelers to be vaccinated.

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On Thursday, 31 Republican senators asked the administration to end the mask and pre-departure testing requirements. “It is time for the federal government to recognize this reality, follow the science, and reduce or eliminate these restrictions immediately,” Senator Roger Wicker said.

The current CDC transit order, which has been in place since soon after Biden took office in January 2021, has been previously extended three times and requires masks to be worn by all travelers on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride -shares and at transportation hubs such as airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations, and seaports.

His predecessor, President Donald Trump, rejected requests from US public health agencies to impose the requirements in transit – even though airlines and some other transportation modes had required masks.

Last month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Biden administration over the transportation mask mandate.

“Seat-belt laws likewise took away the ‘liberty’ to choose driving (or flying) without a seat belt, but losing that choice was not irreparable harm,” the Justice Department said in response, adding the court should reject Paxton’s lawsuit.

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