Mask Mandate for Planes, Trains Extended by CDC for 2 Weeks

The mask mandate for public transportation is set to be extended for at least two more weeks rather than expiring on April 18, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is monitoring recent increases in COVID case numbers, a CDC spokesperson told Newsweek.

The 15-day extension will take the mandate to May 3 as the CDC further studies the Omicron sub-variant that became the dominant strain of COVID in the U.S. last month.

"In order to assess the potential impact the rise of cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity, the CDC order will remain in place at this time," the CDC spokesperson said.

The mask mandate for public transportation and airplanes has been one of the most contentious of the remaining COVID prevention policies, as many people have questioned why it still needs to be in place if mask mandates are being removed for large cities or indoor venues like restaurants and gyms, Newsweek previously reported.

"TSA will continue to coordinate closely with CDC and communicate any changes to this requirement with the public," the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement to Newsweek.

Mask Mandate CDC Public Transportation
The CDC is set to extend the mask mandate for public transportation like planes and trains for at least two more weeks. Above, a woman walks past a sign calling for mask wearing at Penn Station in New York on August 2, 2021. Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

Cases have increased slightly in recent weeks due to the Omicron BA.2 "stealth" variant that may be even more transmissible than the original Omicron variant or other variants, the Associated Press reported. CDC data showed a current daily average of just over 30,000 cases per day.

Those figures were also likely to be an undercount, as people could be testing positive with at-home tests in cases that may not be reported to public health agencies, the AP added.

The CDC also announced a revision to the Travel Health Notice system for international travel. Effective next Monday, levels 1, 2 and 3 of travel advisories regarding COVID case spikes in a given destination will continue to be determined by 28-day average case counts.

However, level 4 of the system will be reserved for "special circumstances, such as rapidly escalating case trajectory or extremely high case counts, emergence of a new variant of concern, or health care infrastructure collapse," the CDC said in a statement.

Under the new system, the CDC said that a level 4 warning should halt Americans from traveling to a given international location, regardless of vaccination status, until the CDC has a "clearer understanding" of the COVID situation in that country.

The CDC has continued to monitor the spread of the Omicron variant, especially the BA.2 sub-variant that the CDC spokesperson said now makes up more than 85% of all U.S. cases.

Several Republican-led states and other groups of lawmakers filed lawsuits last month against the CDC and the Biden administration to have the transportation mask mandate lifted shortly after the announcement in mid-March that it would be extended through April 18.

When the TSA announced the one-month extension on March 10, it said the CDC was working to create a "revised policy framework" to determine when, and under what circumstances, masks would be required on public transportation.

Earlier this week, Philadelphia became the first major American city to reintroduce a mask mandate for indoor public spaces because of rising COVID numbers after it had previously rescinded the mandate.

Update 4/13/22, 5:45 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information from the CDC statement.

Update 4/13/22, 2:40 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with comment from the TSA.