CORONAVIRUS

Mask rule for planes and trains still up in the air

Apr 12, 2022, 9:34 AM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 3:36 pm

FILE: People walk through Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix where new COVID-19 cases are ...

FILE: People walk through Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix where new COVID-19 cases are down but health experts warn cases may rise with the introduction of the omicron strain on December 18, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

DALLAS (AP) — The federal requirement to wear face masks on airplanes and public transportation is scheduled to expire next week, and airline executives and Republican lawmakers are urging the Biden administration to let the mandate die.

The fate of the rule — and consideration of an alternate “framework” of moves to limit the spread of COVID-19 — was under discussion Monday within the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Officials described it as a close call.

“This is a decision that the CDC Director Dr. (Rochelle) Walensky is going to make,” White House coronavirus-policy adviser Dr. Ashish Jha said Monday. “I know the CDC is working on developing a scientific framework for how to answer that. We are going to see that framework come out I think in the next few days.”

Jha said that extending mask mandate again is “on the table.”

The administration gave the rule a one-month reprieve in March so that public-health officials would have time to develop alternative methods of limiting the transmission of COVID-19 during travel.

The mask mandate is the most visible vestige of government restrictions to control the pandemic, and possibly the most controversial. A surge of abusive and sometimes violent incidents on airplanes has been attributed mostly to disputes over mask-wearing.

Critics have seized on the fact that states have rolled back rules requiring masks in restaurants, stores and other indoor settings, and yet COVID-19 cases have fallen sharply since the omicron variant peaked in mid-January.

“The American people have seen through the false logic that COVID-19 only exists on airplanes and public transportation,” Republicans on the House and Senate transportation committees said Friday in a letter to the administration.

However, a recent uptick in cases could provide reason for the CDC to keep the mask rule a bit longer.

After a steep, two-month decline, the seven-day rolling U.S. average of new reported COVID-19 cases has turned slightly higher in recent days, although from relatively low levels.

Several prominent officials have contracted the virus, including the 82-year-old House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who tested positive for the virus last week after appearing – without a mask – at a White House event with President Joe Biden. Also last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo disclosed that they had tested positive after a gathering that was quickly dubbed a super-spreader event.

Airlines began requiring masks in 2020, months before the government mandate was issued days after President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Airlines faced financial ruin because of the pandemic, and the masks and other measures such as blocking middle seats were meant to reassure frightened passengers that flying was safe from the virus.

In December, the CEO of Southwest Airlines was forced to walk back a comment that masks didn’t do much to improve health safety in the cabin because planes have strong air filters.

Travelers have returned — the number of Americans getting on planes surged past 2 million a day in March — and airlines think they can sell plenty of seats without the mask rule.

“My flight attendants are begging us to stop this,” Frontier Airlines CEO Barry Biffle said. “Every day it’s causing all of these incidents on board, and it’s frustrating and it’s dangerous. You’re asking a 24-year-old flight attendant to explain it to someone who is mad” about the rule.

Unions that represent flight attendants once supported the mask rule but are now neutral. Union officials say their members are divided.

Executives of 10 airlines including American, Delta, United and Southwest wrote to Biden last month, urging the White House to drop the mask rule and a requirement that international travelers test negative for COVID-19 before flying to the U.S. “Much has changed since these measures were imposed and they no longer make sense in the current public health context,” the executives said.

Airlines for America, a trade group representing those big airlines, and three other industry organizations made a similar appeal to Dr. Jha on Friday. They pointed to recent CDC guidance which found that the most Americans no longer need to wear masks indoors because hospitalization rates in their communities are relatively low.

Savanthi Syth, an airline analyst for Raymond James & Associates, said there are some people who will feel uncomfortable flying with fellow passengers who aren’t wearing masks, but there could be others who have avoided flying because they’re not comfortable wearing one for a long flight.

“I expect the vast majority of passengers and flight attendants will welcome the change (if the rule is dropped), given that it is consistent with most other areas of everyday life,” Syth said. She said any impact on travel demand will be small, and that airlines would get a much bigger boost from elimination of the testing requirement on inbound international travelers.

Chris Lopinto, co-founder of travel site ExpertFlyer.com, said that because of the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases, it might be wise to keep the mask mandate until cases subside again.

“I don’t think there would be a material effect on demand either way, considering airlines can barely keep up with the demand they already have,” he said.

Most congressional Democrats continue to support the mask mandate. A leading liberal, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass, urged the CDC and the Transportation Security Administration to keep the rule in place, saying that the virus and variants remain a threat to seniors and people with weakened immune systems or disabilities.

The political calculus could be shifting, however. Last month, eight Democrats broke with the White House and joined Senate Republicans in a symbolic vote against the mask mandate. Four of those Democrats face difficult re-election races in November, and the party is unlikely to keep control of the Senate if any of them lose.

___

Associated Press White House reporter Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

KSL 5 TV Live

Coronavirus

Deer Creek Reservoir...

Alex Cabrero

State parks expecting another record visitation year, hiring more workers

It didn't matter how cold or snowy it was at Deer Creek State Park Friday afternoon. Nothing was going to stop Leonard Sawyer from taking his boat out to do a little fishing.

11 days ago

FILE —  Respiratory virus illness activity continues to increase across the US.
(Joe Burbank/Orl...

Emma Benson

‘Not viruses to mess around with’: Experts urge caution during ongoing ‘tripledemic’

Experts say though not as severe as last year, this winter we're seeing another "tripledemic" – rising cases of COVID-19, flu and RSV in Utah.

2 months ago

FILE - COVID-19 antigen home tests. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS...

Emma Benson

‘The ICUs are full:’ Keep yourself and others healthy this holiday

It's time for holiday gatherings, but with more people around us comes a greater risk of getting sick.

2 months ago

Julianna Preece goes through the mountain of medical documents she's acquired for her health condit...

Lauren Steinbrecher

Herriman couple is suing CVS, says 5x Covid vaccine dose mistake caused health problems

A couple is suing a Utah CVS vaccination clinic, saying a nurse’s mistake led to the wife receiving five times the normal COVID-19 vaccine dose and caused serious health issues she’s still dealing with today.

3 months ago

FILE - COVID-19 antigen home tests. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS...

Associated Press

More free COVID-19 tests from the government are available for home delivery through the mail

Americans can order more free COVID-19 tests online for home delivery.

3 months ago

FILE - Doses of the anti-viral drug Paxlovid are displayed in New York, Aug. 1, 2022. The COVID-19 ...

Amanda Seitz, Associated Press

COVID-19 treatments to enter the market with a hefty price tag

The COVID-19 treatments millions of have taken for free from the federal government will enter the private market next week with a hefty price tag.

4 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Mask rule for planes and trains still up in the air