On February 1, an order issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) went into effect requiring people to wear masks while in all transportation hubs and on public modes of transportation, including airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, rideshares, airports, seaports, and train, bus, and subway stations.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is enforcing the order along with federal, state, and local authorities, is now extending the requirement for a second time through January 18, 2022. It was initially set to expire on May 11 and had been extended through September 13, 2021.
“The purpose of TSA’s mask directive is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation,” a TSA spokesperson told AFAR, confirming the January 18 extension.
In light of the Delta variant, which can spread even among vaccinated individuals, the CDC recently announced that even those who have been fully vaccinated should go back to wearing masks indoors in places where COVID-19 is surging. The mask order applies to all travelers whether they have been vaccinated or not.
Masks must be worn over the mouth and nose, according to the CDC order. For those wearing cloth masks, the masks “should be made with two or more layers of a breathable fabric that is tightly woven (i.e., fabrics that do not let light pass through when held up to a light source)”—that goes for gaiters, too, which should have two layers of fabric or be folded into two layers, according to the agency. Medical masks, such as surgical or N95 respirator masks, also pass muster.
Masks or face coverings that don’t cut it? According to the CDC, these are a no-go:
- Face shields
- Scarves, ski masks, balaclavas, or bandannas
- Turtleneck collars pulled up over the mouth and nose
- Masks containing slits, valves, or punctures
Children under the age of two, as well as those with a disability that prohibits them from wearing a mask, are exempt. Masks can be briefly removed while eating, drinking, or taking medication; to verify someone’s identity such as TSA airport screenings; and when oxygen masks are required on an aircraft.
The extended mask policy for public transportation comes less than a month after the CDC issued new mask guidelines, recommending that even vaccinated individuals return to wearing masks indoors in areas where COVID-19 is surging. In the spring, the agency had relaxed mask guidelines stating that fully vaccinated Americans can gather with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing a mask and can visit indoors with unvaccinated people, including children, who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 disease, without wearing masks or distancing.
While most new infections in the United States continue to be among unvaccinated people, with the Delta variant some “breakthrough” infections, which generally cause milder illness, can occur in vaccinated people, according to CDC data.
The country is currently averaging 140,000 cases a day and 75,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations.
This story was originally published on January 21, 2021, and was updated on August 18, 2021, to include current information. Associated Press contributed reporting.