The Biden administration said Tuesday it plans to extend mask mandates for travelers on airplanes, trains and buses and at airports and train stations through January 18 amid concern over the highly-transmissible delta variant.
“The purpose of TSA’s mask directive is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation,” a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) spokesperson reportedly told Reuters.
The current TSA transportation mask order had been set to expire on September 13.
A CDC order put in place just after President Biden took office, requires the use of face masks to be worn by all travelers on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares and at transportation hubs such as airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations, and seaports.
The outlet reported that major U.S. airlines were notified of the planned extension on a call with TSA and CDC officials on Tuesday.
Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson said the new extension “will help tremendously to keep passengers and aviation workers safe,” according to Reuters.
The mask requirement has been a point of conflict between travelers and transportation employees, however: TSA told Congress that there have been more than 85 physical assaults on TSA officers since the pandemic began.
Last month, Republican lawmakers introduced legislation to ban mask mandates for public transport. Many Republicans have urged the CDC to exempt fully vaccinated Americans from the face covering requirements.
Marty Cetron, the CDC official who signed the mask order, told Reuters last month that the transit mask mandate has been effective.
“Masks are really powerful and we should make sure they’re part of our arsenal,” Cetron said. “The truth is that the unvaccinated portion that’s out there is extremely vulnerable.”
The extension comes days after Canada announced it will require most commercial passengers traveling by air, rail or large ship to be fully vaccinated by fall.
However, last week Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told CNN there was no discussion “at this time” about requiring vaccines for domestic airline passengers.