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Mask Mandate on Planes and Public Transport Extended Into September

By Michelle Baran

Apr 30, 2021

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Wearing masks at U.S. airports remains a must.

Photo by Shutterstock

Wearing masks at U.S. airports remains a must.

The federally mandated mask policy, which was set to expire on May 11, has been extended through September 13.

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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.

On April 30, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is enforcing the order along with federal, state, and local authorities, said it is extending the requirement through September 13, 2021, from its initial expiration date of May 11.

“Right now, about half of all [U.S.] adults have at least one vaccination shot and masks remain an important tool in defeating this pandemic,” stated Darby LaJoye, the senior official performing the duties of the TSA Administrator.

The CDC recently announced that those who have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 can travel safely within the U.S. 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 just a few days after the CDC issued updated mask recommendations for fully vaccinated people, building on the guidance released in March 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.

Now, the agency says it is safe for the fully vaccinated to participate in outdoor activities without a mask, except in “certain crowded settings and venues” such as a live performance, sporting event, or parade. According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people can go mask-free in these settings:

  • While walking, running, hiking, or biking outdoors (including when with members of their household)
  • While attending small outdoor gatherings with fully vaccinated family and friends, or with a mixture of fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people
  • While dining at outdoor restaurants with friends from multiple households

Fully vaccinated people should still wear a mask in indoor public settings (such as a grocery store, barber shop or hair salon, or museum) and when visiting indoors with unvaccinated people who are at greater risk for severe COVID-19 disease. And they must also continue to wear a mask while on public transit systems.

This story was originally published on January 21, 2021, and was updated on April 30, 2021, to include current information.

>> Next: Our Picks for Face Masks to Buy—and the Latest Rules for Wearing Them

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