The US is extending transit face mask requirements through September 13th

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Travelers pick up their luggage at Denver Airport

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden government announced Friday that it is expanding face mask requirements to all U.S. transportation networks by September 13 to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requirements, which came into effect on February 1, were due to expire on May 11. They apply to employees and travelers at airports, on board commercial aircraft, in street buses and in shuttle buses and rail systems until September 13th.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the federal mask mandate in almost all modes of transport at the end of January, including for carpooling. The order does not apply to private cars or commercial vehicles that are driven by a single operator.

The decision was praised by airlines and unions.

Airlines for America, a commercial group representing major airlines, welcomed “the government’s decision to extend the mandate that requires facial covers on airliners and at airports.”

The group said, “This protective layer plays a critical role in reducing the risk of transmission … (and) has greatly strengthened the ability of our flight crews to enforce these requirements on board.”

The CDC said Wednesday it had relaxed its guidelines to say that fully vaccinated people can safely participate in outdoor activities such as walking and hiking without wearing masks. It said they should continue to use face coverings in public places where it is needed.

The TSA’s federal mandate requires transit masks, even in states that have relaxed requirements for other public places such as restaurants.

Wearing face masks is considered by experts to be one of the most effective ways to control virus transmission. With most COVID-19 transmissions going indoors and with the rise in vaccinations, the US has been discussing the use of masks outdoors for weeks as many Americans want to enjoy the benefits of a full vaccination.

Biden issued the transit mask mandate after President Donald Trump rejected the CDC’s recommendations.

The TSA told Reuters that its agents have “experienced largely voluntary compliance” since the transit mask requirements went into effect on Feb. 1.

It said, “Transportation system operators have reported nearly 2,000 passengers who refused to wear face masks. The TSA will impose a civil penalty if necessary.”

In March, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration indefinitely extended a “zero tolerance policy” for recalcitrant passengers, first imposed in January after hundreds of reported incidents.

FAA Administrator Steve Dickson extended the policy through March 30, “as we continue to do everything we can to counter the pandemic.” The FAA said the extension will last at least as long as the federal face mask stays in place.

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