The Biden administration will extend the federal mask mandate on public transportation for another two weeks because it wants time to evaluate the BA.2 variant and to see whether it will cause major problems.
The mask rule had been set to expire on April 18 but it will last until at least May 3.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the fast-moving variant, which now accounts for over 85% of cases in the U.S., is causing a noticeable uptick in infections.
“Since early April, there have been increases in the seven-day moving average of cases in the U.S. 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 CDC said in a written statement.
The Transportation Security Administration decided to accept the CDC recommendation and extend the mask rule, which requires face coverings on planes, trains and buses. It is one of the few remaining mandates in place as much of the country tries to let individuals manage their own risk from the coronavirus.
Republicans swiftly lambasted the extension.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said people should vote out the “petty tyrants” imposing mask rules.
Others said the extension was inconsistent with the CDC’s move to lift Title 42, a pandemic order that allowed the U.S. to swiftly turn back migrants at the border.
“I bet masks aren’t enforced for the illegal immigrants streaming across our southern border — just for Americans who simply want to go on vacation,” tweeted Morgan Ortagus, a former State Department spokeswoman and GOP candidate for Congress in Tennessee.
While some passengers might feel safer because of the mandate, major airlines have lobbied President Biden to let the rule expire, citing the burden of enforcement and the fact the CDC does not recommend universal mask-wearing in much of the country.
Flight attendants have made similar arguments in lawsuits against the mandate and say it is difficult to wear masks for hours on end.
Daily case counts remain close to pandemic lows across the country but are slowly increasing and top 30,000 per day.
Hospitalizations have continued to decline and the daily average of patients sits below 15,000 as scientists point to a possible decoupling of cases and bad outcomes because of vaccines, boosters and available treatments.
The White House defended the CDC’s decision as a sensible attempt to understand the trajectory of BA.2, a subvariant of omicron.
“What they’re trying to do is give a little bit more time to assess its potential impact,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “Two weeks would give them some additional time to do that. Now at the end of that two weeks, they can determine what’s next after that. But that is an assessment they made so that they can gather more data of the rise of the subvariant.”
White House COVID-19 Coordinator Ashish Jha told NBC’s “Today” earlier in the week that CDC scientists are developing a scientific framework that will guide decisions on whether to end or extend the mandate.
“We’ll make a decision collectively based on that,” he said.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.