TSA Extends Mask Mandate for Planes, Trains and Buses: A 'Very Cautious' Decision that Could End Next Month

March 11, 2022

Mar. 11—Travelers at Boston Logan International Airport, passengers on planes and riders on the T will still have to wear masks for at least another month while mask mandates are lifted across the region.

The Transportation Security Administration on Thursday announced that it's extending the face-covering order on public transportation and in transportation hubs through April 18.

There's a chance this will be the final extension of the mandate, as COVID-19 rates plummet across the country following the omicron variant surge.

"The TSA decision is very cautious," said Davidson Hamer, a Boston University specialist in infectious diseases, but noted there remains a risk for virus transmission. "Public transportation, especially if there are crowds in relatively poorly ventilated, confined spaces, carries a higher risk for transmission so I can appreciate the argument for continued mask use in this context.

"My hope is that by early to mid April, case counts and proportion of positive cases will have dropped down to close to the level of last June when we had a serious lull in transmission and TSA will feel comfortable lifting the mask mandate altogether," he added. "Although I think we should always make it clear to high risk persons that they have a personal choice to wear a mask for their own protection."

Boston University epidemiology professor Matthew Fox said in general it's been a "good thing" to pull back on masking restrictions.

"But transportation, especially plane travel, is a setting where people have to be close to one another, sometimes for long periods of time and have little control over their environment," he added. "As such, I think it is reasonable to keep masking in place on planes until rates of COVID are even lower than they are now. Hopefully by April we will feel comfortable removing them on planes, but we should wait and see."

The MBTA's rules for face coverings will stay in place until the requirement is lifted, according to a T spokesman.

"For the health and safety of everyone, all employees and riders must wear face coverings while using the transit system," the spokesman added. "The MBTA greatly appreciates its customers' compliance with applicable federal orders."

The feds received some pushback on Thursday, as 31 Republican senators urged President Biden to end the travel mask mandate. They wrote to Biden, "We strongly support your goal of returning the country to normal, and we encourage your Administration to reduce or eliminate travel restrictions to help achieve your goal."

Between now and April 18, the CDC will be working with government agencies on establishing a threshold for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor.

TSA said in a statement, "This revised framework will be based on the COVID-19 community levels, risk of new variants, national data, and the latest science."


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