WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Biden administration said on Friday it is extending face mask requirements across all U.S. transportation networks through Sept. 13 to address the spread of COVID-19.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) requirements that took effect on Feb. 1 were to set to expire on May 11. They cover workers and travelers at airports, on board commercial aircraft, on over-the-road buses, and on commuter bus and rail systems through Sept. 13.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the federal mask mandate in nearly all transportation modes in late January, including on ride-share vehicles. The order does not apply to private cars or commercial trucks being driven by a sole operator.
The decision was praised by airlines and airline unions.
Airlines for America, a trade group representing major airlines, hailed “the administration’s decision to extend the mandate requiring face coverings onboard commercial aircraft and in airports.”
The group said “this layer of protection plays a critical role in mitigating the risk of transmission … (and) has significantly strengthened our flight crews’ ability to enforce these requirements onboard.”
The CDC said Wednesday it relaxed its guidelines to say fully vaccinated people could safely engage in outdoor activities such as walking and hiking without wearing masks. It said they should continue to use face-coverings in public spaces where they are required.
The TSA federal mandate requires masks in transit even in states where officials have relaxed requirements in other public places such as restaurants.
Wearing face masks is considered by experts one of the most effective ways of controlling virus transmission. With most COVID-19 transmission occurring indoors, and vaccinations on the rise, the use of masks outdoors has been debated for weeks in the United States as many Americans look to enjoy the benefits of being fully vaccinated.
Biden imposed the transit mask mandate after then President Donald Trump rejected CDC recommendations to do so.
The TSA told Reuters that since the transit mask requirements took effect on Feb. 1 its agents have “largely experienced voluntary compliance.”
It said “transportation system operators have reported almost 2,000 passengers for refusing to wear a face mask. TSA will assess a civil penalty if necessary.”
In March, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration indefinitely extended a “zero tolerance policy” on unruly air passengers first imposed in January, after hundreds of reported incidents.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson extended the policy set to expire March 30, “as we continue to do everything we can to confront the pandemic.” The FAA said the extension will last at least as long as the federal transportation face mask order remains in effect.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler, Howard Goller and Daniel Wallis)