The US is set to extend a nationwide mask requirement for planes and public transit for an additional two weeks as it monitors cases of the coronavirus Omicron subvariant BA.2.
The federal transportation mask mandate was set to expire on April 18, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday said it will extend the order to May 3.
‘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 agency stated.
The CDC added that it will monitor the BA.2 variant in deciding whether it will extend the rule again.
White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ashish Jha had said on Monday that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky would be utilizing a ‘framework that the CDC scientists create’ to decide whether to extend the rule.
‘This is a CDC decision and I think it is absolutely on the table,’ Jha told ’s Today show, adding, ‘We’ll make a decision collectively based on that’.
Since going into effect in February 2021, the mask requirement for planes, trains, buses, airports and transit hubs has previously been extended several times.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which enforces the order for planes, trains buses and transit centers, extended the mandate last month. At the time, it said the CDC intended to unveil a more flexible masking rule to replace the requirement.
Coronavirus cases have dropped significantly since the Omicron variant surge in mid-January. A slight increase in cases from about 25,000 per day to 30,000 nationwide has occurred recently, driven by the more contagious BA.2 variant.
The BA.2 variant caused 86% of new coronavirus cases in the US last week, according to the CDC’s latest estimates.
A Biden administration official said the mask order extension is also being done to gather more information to understand the more contagious BA.2 variant.
‘Since early April, there have been increases in the 7-day moving average of cases in the US,’ the unnamed official told on Wednesday.
‘In order to assess the potential impact, the rise of cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity, CDC is recommending that TSA extend the security directive to enforce mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs for 15 days, through May 3, 2022.’
The official continued: ‘This will give additional time for the CDC to learn more about BA.2 and make a best-informed decision.’
It comes despite airlines, the hospitality industry and some Republican lawmakers pressuring US officials to lift the mask mandate.
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