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The CDC just relaxed mask guidance — but they’re still required on airplanes, for now

February 25 2022
3 min read
Man wearing a mask walking with a suitcase by an American Airlines sign
The CDC just relaxed mask guidance — but they’re still required on airplanes, for now
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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its mask-wearing guidelines on Friday, allowing most Americans to forgo masking while indoors in public.

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The new guidance introduces an updated framework for how local officials can assess the risk of the virus when setting community guidelines or restrictions. Rather than focusing solely on case counts as the metric for determining masking recommendations, the CDC now advises localities to focus on three measures: new coronavirus-related hospitalizations, the percentage of hospital beds filled by COVID-19 patients and the rate of new cases per 100,000 people.

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Those with symptoms or confirmed cases are still advised to wear masks regardless of local rules.

While the new federal guidelines are effective immediately, it remains largely up to local authorities to determine when to impose or lift mask mandates.

But know that masks will continue to be required, at least in the immediate future, on airplanes and at airports.

The guidelines do not affect the federal mask mandate that applies to public forms of transportation and transit hubs, including in airports and aboard aircraft. That mandate is dictated by the TSA.

The mask mandate is slated to lift on March 18 unless it is renewed before then.

It was not immediately clear whether the mandate would be renewed or if it would be allowed to expire.

This isn't the first time the CDC has relaxed mask guidance while the TSA has left the mask mandate in place. In May of 2021, as the vaccination rate climbed and case counts dropped, the CDC said that unmasking indoors was safe for vaccinated people while the air travel mask mandate was left in place. The mandate was eventually extended — and the CDC tightened its guidance again — when the delta variant emerged.

A surge in disruptive and violent passenger incidents aboard flights, some of which began with disputes over the mask mandate, has led to fines and criminal prosecutions, along with discussions of a new federal "no-fly list" for unruly passengers.

Related: Air rage crisis: Congress gets an earful on unruly flyer incidents aboard US flights

As of Feb. 22, there have been 607 reports of unruly passengers in 2022, of which 397 incidents were related to the mask mandate, according to the FAA. The agency has opened 144 investigations and 80 enforcement cases.

While the overall number of incidents has been low — just 13 incidents per 10,000 flights at the height of the problem in mid-January to February of 2021 — about 85% of flight attendants in a recent survey said they had encountered disruptive passenger behavior on flights in 2021, and nearly 1 in 5 said they had either witnessed or been subject to violence.

Featured photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/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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