Face masks are mandated aboard flights amid COVID-19. (photo via iStock/Getty Images Plus/Viktor_Gladkov)
The United States government has extended the nationwide mask mandate for public forms of transportation through May 3 as it monitors reports of a surge in coronavirus cases.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it would extend the order that was set to expire on April 18, citing the need to “monitor for any observable increase in severe virus outcomes as cases rise in parts of the country.”
The CDC said the move was “made out of an abundance of caution,” but President Joe Biden and his administration are still working on a more flexible masking strategy to replace the nationwide requirement.
The CDC also revealed its Travel Health Notice system for international destinations would be overhauled. The new system will reserve Level 4 travel health notices for special circumstances, such as rapidly escalating case trajectory or extremely high case counts, emergence of a new variant of concern or healthcare infrastructure collapse.
Levels 3, 2, and 1 will continue to be primarily determined by 28-day incidence or case counts and the system will go into effect on April 18. With this new configuration, travelers will have a more actionable alert for when they should not travel to a certain destination.
Biden will likely face backlash from the travel industry for extending the mandate, which requires anyone traveling through an airport or on an airplane, train or bus to wear a facial covering, even as all states have moved to lift such requirements.
In March, a group of state attorneys general from around the U.S. filed a lawsuit that would block mask mandates on public forms of transportation, joining a group of flight attendants fighting for the same cause in court.
In addition, the chief executive officers from American, Delta, Southwest, United and other airlines sent a letter to President Joe Biden and his administration last month asking them to lift COVID-era transportation mandates, including mask requirements.