The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday (April 13) that it is extending America’s nationwide mask requirement for public transit by 15 days as it investigates a spike in COVID-19 cases.
The order, which applies to airplanes, buses, trains and transit hubs, was originally set to expire on April 18.
Extending the deadline to May 3 gives the CDC more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant, which currently makes up more than 85 per cent of COVID cases in the United States, according to reports.
“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 U.S.-based health agency said in a statement.
Unruly behaviour on the rise
Several U.S. airlines have been pushing the White House to lift the mask mandate, which is believed to be driving a rise in abusive and sometimes violent incidents on airplanes involving irate passengers disputing the rule.
Last month, in a letter to the Biden administration, CEOs of all major U.S. airlines requested an end to mandatory mask-wearing on planes.
"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," the letter read.
The airline executives said the burden of enforcing face masks on planes has unfairly fallen on employees.
"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,” the group wrote.
The CDC’s position is that travel on airplanes, trains and buses presents a unique risk, including the possible introduction of new and dangerous variants from overseas.
"There's a lot of mixing, a lot of international travel that it's hard to disentangle," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told ABC's "Start Here" last March.
Air travel has seen a spike in bad behaviour from passengers during the pandemic.
This year alone, the Federal Aviation Administration received 1,150 reports of unruly passengers – 744 of which were related to wearing face masks.