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Extension of mask mandate for planes, public transport “on the table”, says the White House

Topline

The Biden administration may continue to require Americans to wear masks on public transportation, airplanes and airports after the end of term next week, as the White House’s Covid-19 coordinator said Monday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention could rule in the coming days that the mask order should not yet be lifted amid a further rise in Covid-19 cases.

Highlights

White House Covid-19 coordinator Dr Ashish Jha said the Today the CDC is developing a “scientific framework” to determine when masks should be required on public transportation like trains, buses and planes after the mask mandate expires on April 18.

Jha said the CDC’s decision to continue requiring masks would be “guided” by that science, and when asked if that meant the mask mandate could stay in place, Jha replied “that’s absolutely on the table”.

The CDC said when it extended the federal mask mandate in March through April 18 that it would use the extension to create a “framework” for when masks would be needed that would take into account factors such as as severe disease levels of Covid-19 or if new variants emerge.

An announcement on whether the federal mask mandate will remain in place is expected to be released “in the coming days,” Jha said.

crucial quote

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve wanted to make decisions based on evidence and science, and that’s what I think we’ll be doing again this week,” Jha said, although he pointed out that the decision would largely rest with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Chief Critics

Attorneys general from 21 GOP-led states sued the federal government in late March over the mask-carrying mandate, arguing that national policy violates state sovereignty and that the mask ordinance should be rescinded. CEOs of major airlines have also called for the Biden administration to end the mandate, writing in a March open letter that the mask requirement no longer aligns “with the realities of the current epidemiological environment.”

Key Context

Covid-19 cases are starts to rise in a number of regions across the United States, including New York and Washington, D.C., driven by the highly transmissible omicron BA.2 subvariant which is now linked to a majority of Covid-19 cases nationwide. Cases still remain largely stable nationwide, but rising cases have raised fears of a further surge in Covid-19, as other countries such as the UK and China have seen in recent weeks. Jha said on Monday that while it is true that cases are increasing and “we need to watch this very closely”, hospitalizations so far are still low and cases are still at a relatively low level. “I think we need to be careful, but I don’t think this is a time when we need to be overly worried,” Jha said.

To monitor

If more mask mandates will be imposed as Covid-19 cases increase. Several universities are reimposing mask requirements, and philadelphia cream officials are expected to announce on Monday whether the city’s mask mandate will come back into effect in response to the surge in Covid-19 measures.

Surprising fact

Recent polls have yielded conflicting results on whether Americans want the federal mask mandate to remain in effect after April 18. A recent Harris poll found that 60% of Americans want to keep it in place, and a Morning Consult survey similarly, at least three in five respondents support customers and employees wearing masks on planes. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll was more divided, however, with a narrow majority of 51% saying they want the federal mask’s mandate to expire.

Further reading

Mask mandate on planes and public transport extended until April 18 (Forbes)

Most Americans want mask-wearing to continue in at least some places, but are split on public transit, poll finds (Forbes)

Poll: 6 in 10 Americans not ready for mask mandate to end air travel (Forbes)

Twenty-one states are suing the Biden administration to end mask mandates on planes and public transportation (Forbes)

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