Traveling? Don't throw that mask away: The mask rule is extended to May 3

  • Metra riders exit the train at the Palatine station. The federal government is extending its face mask mandate on airplanes and public transit through May 3 because of concerns about the infectious COVID-19 variant, BA.2.

      Metra riders exit the train at the Palatine station. The federal government is extending its face mask mandate on airplanes and public transit through May 3 because of concerns about the infectious COVID-19 variant, BA.2. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/13/2022 5:45 PM

Passengers on planes, trains and buses will need to keep their face masks on through early May amid an increase in COVID-19 cases, the federal government announced Wednesday.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Centers for Disease Control had set April 18 as the day restrictions on transportation systems would end.

 

But because of recent growth in COVID-19 case counts caused by the highly infectious BA. 2 variant, mask requirements will continue through May 3, a CDC spokeswoman told the Daily Herald.

"CDC continues to monitor the spread of the omicron variant, especially the BA.2 subvariant that now makes up more than 85% of U.S. cases," CDC public affairs specialist Jasmine Reed said. "Since early April, there have been increases in the seven-day moving average of cases in the U.S.

"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 mandate affects Metra, Pace and the Chicago Transit Authority. Metra and Pace have said they will comply with federal guidelines.

"We appreciate our riders' continued cooperation to keep everyone safe," Pace spokesman John Kokoris said.

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COVID-19 infections in Illinois risen gradually compared to a steep increase in them in parts of the Northeast. Statewide, the seven-day average for new cases was 1,728 Wednesday, compared to 1,426 a week ago on April 6, or 21% higher.

The U.S. Travel Association, which represents airlines, hotels and tourism groups, pushed back against the change.

"With all of the tools now available to mitigate the virus, it is time for the administration to set a clear end date for federal requirements on mask usage, as well as pre-departure testing for air travelers to the U.S.," association executive Tori Emerson Barnes said.

Asked recently about safety on airplanes, Dr. Gregory Huhn, infectious disease physician and COVID-19 vaccine lead for Cook County Health, noted that a 2020 U.S. Department of Defense study of 777s and 767s "showed there is minimal risk of contracting coronavirus while flying."

That's because of high-grade air filters and circulation systems that import clean air from outside, Huhn said. However, he recommended that anyone with health concerns wear a high-quality mask while flying, such as an N95 or KN95.

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