The CDC just extended its federal mask mandate for airplanes and public transit another two weeks, until May 3, amid rising cases of the BA.2 Omicron subvariant, particularly on the East Coast.
The federal mandate that requires face masks on all public transit, in taxis, in airports, and on planes was set to expire on April 18. But the Centers for Disease Control has just extended an extra two weeks.
"In order 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 agency said in a statement Wednesday.
The BA.2 subvariant now makes up 85% of new COVID cases in the U.S., and while numbers still seem to remain low in California, the variant appears to be causing a wave of infections on the Eastern Seaboard, especially in Washington, D.C. Many lawmakers and other prominent D.C. figures have been infected in the last week, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Attorney General Merrick Garland — and at least 72 cases have been linked to the annual Gridiron Dinner, which has not happened in two years due to the pandemic.
As ABC News reports, airlines have been pushing to have the federal mandate lifted, after almost two years of "air rage" and general craziness aboard airplanes where anti-maskers like to get drunk and throw fits.
"It makes no sense that people are still required to wear masks on airplanes, yet are allowed to congregate in crowded restaurants, schools and at sporting events without masks, despite none of these venues having the protective air filtration system that aircraft do," wrote the CEOs of all the country's major airlines in a memo to the Biden Administration last month.
Citing the issue of flight attendants and unruly passengers, the CEOs wrote, "This is not a function they are trained to perform and subjects them to daily challenges by frustrated customers. This in turn takes a toll on their own well-being."
For those of us in the Bay Area, May 3rd may seem like too soon to be lifting the mask mandate on trains, planes, and buses, and many of us are likely to keep wearing masks in those setting well beyond the mandate being lifted.
Also, given the wave of new cases and the subvariant, this situation is bringing up major deja vu, and May 3rd may not end up being the end-date after all for masks on planes. Stay tuned.
Photo: Lucrezia de Agro