The U.S. government could extend the federal mask mandate on public transportation, including planes, trains, buses, airports and transit hubs, Ashish Jha, the White House’s new Covid czar, said Monday on NBC’s TODAY show.
That mandate Expected to start next Monday, April 18th.
“This is a CDC decision and I think it’s absolutely on the table,” Jha said, adding that the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, “Making her decision based on that framework will make the CDC scientists, and we’ll make a decision together based on that.”
The mask requirement has been extended several times since it came into force in February 2021. Before that, wearing masks on planes and trains was highly recommended but not mandatory nationwide. Jha said Walensky was “working to develop a scientific framework” that would determine whether to extend the rule.
“I think we’ll see that framework come out in the next few days,” he added.
The mask mandate is about to expire as the Omicron subvariant BA.2, which accounted for about 72 percent of US cases last week and is more contagious than the original Omicron variant, is fueling cases in states like Arizona, Nebraska and New York. Philadelphia announced Monday it would reinstate its indoor mask mandate next week after cases rose more than 50 percent over the past 10 days.
Overall, the US has seen an almost 6 percent increase in average daily Covid cases over the past two weeks, according to NBC News. However, many disease experts believe current Covid infections are being dramatically undercounted.
Last month, attorneys general for 21 states sued President Joe Biden’s administration over the transportation mask mandate. The suit says The CDC should have allowed states to enforce their own mandates or tailored its restrictions to modes of transport that pose the highest risk of infection. All but three of the attorney generals are from Republican-led states.
US airline executives also wrote a letter to Biden last month calling for an end to mask requirements. The American Public Transportation Association similar asked the White House to reassess the policy in early March. Both letters pointed to growing challenges in enforcing the rule.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve wanted to make decisions based on evidence and science,” Jha told TODAY, “and I expect to do that again this week once we have that.”
CORRECTION (April 11, 2022 3:50 PM ET): In a previous version of this article, the CDC director’s first name was misspelled. she is dr Rochelle Walensky, not Rachel.