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Decision on air travel mask mandate could come any day, White House official says

April 11, 2022
4 min read
Decision on air travel mask mandate could come any day, White House official says
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A decision on whether to extend the federal mask mandate for air travel could be coming any day, the new White House COVID-19 response coordinator said Monday.

Speaking about the mandate during a live interview on NBC’s "Today" show Monday, Dr. Ashish Jha, who started his new role last week, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to make a decision on the masking requirements in the coming days, but noted an extension of the mandate is “absolutely on the table.”

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The federal mask mandate for public transportation, which includes air travel, is set to expire April 18. The mandate's most recent extension was last month, at which point the CDC gave some signals the rules could be revised or eliminated ahead of the April deadline. At the time, the CDC also announced plans to create new guidelines that would dictate when masks would be recommended on public transportation.

Jha said Monday that “scientific framework” would likely be out “in the next few days.”

“This is a decision that the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, is going to make,” he told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie Monday. “Throughout the entire pandemic we’ve wanted to make decisions based on the evidence and science, and that is what I expect we will do again this week.”

Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Photo by Greg Nash/The Hill/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The federal mask mandate for air travel has been in place since January 2021, when President Joe Biden took office. The requirements have come under intensifying scrutiny in recent weeks, though. The U.S. Senate passed a resolution last month in support of ending the air travel mask mandate, but the measure had little effect: The Biden administration indicated the resolution would be vetoed if it ever got enough support in the House of Representatives.

Also last month, the heads of major U.S. airlines penned a letter asking the White House to end the mask mandate, as well as the testing requirement for international travelers entering the U.S. The White House currently has no plans to end the testing requirement, former White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients said before leaving office last week.

Related: CDC relaxes mask guidance, but not for air travel

Despite increasing pressure to end the mask mandate for air travel, though, there’s also been new concern about the latest COVID-19 numbers, with the BA.2 omicron subvariant leading to rising cases in some pockets of the country.

(Photo by Getty Images)

Regarding the possibility of the mandate being extended, Jha said, “This is a CDC decision and I think it is absolutely on the table.”

In his interview Monday, Jha added, though, that he’s “not overly concerned right now” about the latest COVID-19 trends, pointing to hospitalizations across the country, which remain, he said, at the lowest point of the entire pandemic.

According to data from Johns Hopkins University, U.S. hospitals saw just over 15,000 COVID-19 patients receiving inpatient treatment last week. In mid-January, that number sat at more than 156,000 patients.

TPG reached out to the CDC on Monday for clarity on when, this week, the agency will announce its decision on the air travel mask mandate, and what factors will guide this decision. CDC officials did not immediately respond to our inquiry.

Featured image by Bloomberg via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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