U.S. requiring masks on planes, transit an extra month as it weighs new approach

  • A Southwest Airlines flight attendant prepares a plane bound for Orlando, Fla., for takeoff in May 2020 at Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City, Mo. A mask requirement on planes had just begun at that time.

    A Southwest Airlines flight attendant prepares a plane bound for Orlando, Fla., for takeoff in May 2020 at Kansas City International Airport in Kansas City, Mo. A mask requirement on planes had just begun at that time. Associated Press

  • A man wears a mask as he sits in a Metra train at the Glenview Amtrak/Metra Station in Glenview in May 2020. Mask requirements for train passengers had just begun at the time.

    A man wears a mask as he sits in a Metra train at the Glenview Amtrak/Metra Station in Glenview in May 2020. Mask requirements for train passengers had just begun at the time. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 3/10/2022 7:41 PM

The federal government is extending its face mask requirement on airplanes, buses, trains and other public transportation settings through April 18, officials announced Thursday.

The mandate that includes Metra, Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority had been set to expire March 18 but was continued after consultation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced.

 

"At CDC's recommendation, TSA will extend the security directive for mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs for one month," the agency said in a statement. The rule was intended to prevent spread of COVID-19.

"During that time, CDC will work with government agencies to help inform a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor," officials said. "This revised framework will be based on the COVID-19 community levels, risk of new variants, national data, and the latest science.

"We will communicate any updates publicly if and/or when they change."

The rules apply to airports as well as flights.

"The Chicago Department of Aviation will continue to maintain mask guidelines set forth by the TSA on the recommendation of the CDC at O'Hare and Midway international airports," CDA officials said Thursday.

"The CDA will continue to work with the TSA, airlines and other airport stakeholders to ensure the safety and security of travelers and employees at Chicago's airports."

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Last week, Metra and Pace said they would comply with whatever rules the TSA set.

Readers who emailed the Daily Herald before the announcement had varying reactions to changing the policy although the majority were eager for restrictions to be eased.

Commercial pilot Logan Weck of Algonquin said he welcomed ending the mask mandate because it was becoming a distraction for flight crews.

"Captains and first officers are tasked with making sure the maintenance status of the aircraft, weather conditions, airport runways, taxiways, and equipment are operational and all safe for flight. We ensure that the fuel load is adequate for the flight to make it to its destination as well as any possible alternate airport in the event of poor weather conditions," Weck said.

The issue of masking compliance "is a huge distraction to the flight crews' operation of the aircraft, and any reductions to flight crew workload would not only be welcomed but a huge benefit to safety as a whole, to allow more attention to be spent on much more pressing safety issues," Logan said.

Reader Laura Siemon said, "I think the mask mandate on public transit, including planes, should be extended to protect those under age 5 as they are not eligible for vaccines and many will not mask or cannot mask."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But Linda L. Cala of St. Charles wrote that "enough is enough. Drop the mandate and get on with life. If people want to be vaccinated and wear masks, that's fine; but no one should be forced to do either."

As of Thursday, more than 98% of the U.S. population is in a location with low or medium COVID-19 community levels, where public face-masking is no longer recommended in indoor settings.

"We have to look not only at the science with regard to transmission in masks but also the epidemiology and the frequency that we may encounter a variant of concern or a variant of interest in our travel corridors," CDC director Rochelle Walensky said on March 2, explaining why the agency was delaying removing the requirement for transit but allowed people to gather maskless in movie theaters and sports arenas.

• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.

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