The United States administration has confirmed, as first reported by Reuters, that it plans to extend the current country-wide requirement for travellers to wear masks on airplanes, trains and buses as well as at airports and train stations until at least January 18th 2022.
1. Extension of the mandate
This is an extension of the current Transportation Security Administration (TSA) mask mandate which runs until September 13th of this year. Additionally, the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order was introduced soon after Biden took office back in January 2021 and also requires face masks to be worn by all travellers on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares as well as transportation hubs including airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations, and seaports. The TSA extension is due to the Delta variant still being active in the USA and therefore is considered as still posing a risk to travellers, especially for those who are unvaccinated.
According to the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson, the mandate extension “will help tremendously to keep passengers and aviation workers safe.” At the same time many US airlines are also currently trying to decide what should be done regarding employees vaccine requirements, and United Airlines recently announced its 67,000 US employees will have to get vaccinated by October 25th.
2. Difficulties with the rules
Whilst the extension of the mandate hardly seems a surprise, it repeatedly leads to issues on USA airline flights when difficult passengers refuse to comply with the rules. The Federal Aviation Administration has instituted a “zero tolerance” strategy for noncompliant passengers, and since January 1st has received 2,867 reports from airlines regarding passengers refusing to wear masks. Additionally, unruly passengers can become abusive, with the TSA last month reporting to Congress of over 85 physical assaults on TSA officers since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
3. Wearing masks in the USA
As the situation improved in the country, mask-wearing rules were eased, however on July 27th the CDC changed its guidance and announced that in areas where the virus is quickly spreading again, fully vaccinated people should return to wearing masks in all indoor public places, a recommendation which currently applies to about 94% of US counties. However, in some US states transportation hubs are some of the only remaining places where masks are still required.
4. The CDC mask mandate
Despite certain Republican lawmakers introducing legislation in July to prohibit mask mandates for public transport, and other Republicans demanding the CDC exempt fully vaccinated people from the requirements, the CDC mask order currently has no expiration date. In June it was altered slightly in that the agency said it no longer required travellers to wear masks in outdoor transit hubs or outdoor spaces on ferries and buses, but they have yet to announce an end date for the mandate.