Breaking: CDC Extending Travel Mask Mandate

The federal Transportation Mask Mandate – which covers air, rail, and bus travel – was set to expire March 18th and extended to April 18th. Most people in the airline industry expected it to lapse. I suggested earlier this week that expiring it now would be tough for the Biden administration.

The CDC will extend the mask mandate by two weeks. The goal is to “monitor for any observable increase in severe virus outcomes as cases rise in parts of the country..out of abundance of caution.”

While CDC mask guidance suggests nearly the entire country doesn’t need to wear masks indoors, the only real remaining mask mandates are flying (and other transportation) and in some backward jurisdictions for 2-4 year olds in preschools.

A month ago I wrote that the one thing that could throw a monkey wrench in this plan was an expected uptick in cases by the B.A.2 variant. And that started happening days ago.

Still, recent B.A.1 infection is protective against B.A.2 and vaccination continues to protect against bad outcomes from B.A.2. Hospitalizations and ICU admittances are at their lowest levels since the start of the pandemic.

Even Eric Topol isn’t especially concerned.

We are no longer in a place where public mandates are needed. And doing it just on planes gets us virtually nothing in any case. We’re simply better able to address the current virus than at any point in the pandemic.

  • There’s tremendous background protection from vaccines, boosters, and prior infection.

  • B.A.2 spreads so quickly that masks that meet the regulatory requirement (like cloth masks) probably don’t do much anyway. Masking was important in 2020 both to delay infection (until we had vaccines and treatments) and delay hospitalizations (to preserve capacity) – not so much right now

  • Treatments are available from Paxlovid to Fluvoxamine to Peginterferon Lambda (TOGETHER 3 TRIAL)

Now is the time to wear a good mask properly if you’re concerned – if you’re immunocompromised, elderly, or potentially if you have relevant comorbidities. It’s not the time to impose broad public mandates. We have tools we didn’t have earlier in the pandemic, and enough background immunity from the Omicron wave that we aren’t likely to put pressure on hospitals now.

It is possible of course that we could see a new variant of consequence that is fast-spreading (like Omicron), more virulent (like Delta), and that escapes prior immunity. That would be a huge concern and reason to re-address public health policy from good-quality masks, to variant-specific and pan-coronavirus vaccines, to ramped up treatments.

(HT: @crucker)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. The hardest part of two weeks to stop the spread is the first 2 years.

    #maskup everyone! It’s for your own good.

  2. The mandate makes more sense in overcrowded subways like the New York MTA.
    People are packed in the carriages like sardines during rush-hour. Breathing and coughing down your neck and in your face.

  3. Typical spineless disgusting bureaucrats. I’ve stopped wearing a mask in the airport and encourage everyone to do the same. Stop the madness and resist this lunacy. I’m sure CDS will chime in from his desk at the graduate school TA’s lounge – how about it CDS, you agree??

  4. In consideration of the federal transportation mask mandate, will American Airlines also extend their lack of service to passengers for two more weeks in the restoration of adult beverages in coach?

  5. @Ed — “People are packed in the carriages like sardines during rush-hour. Breathing and coughing down your neck and in your face.”

    It has been proven over and over again, totally scientifically, that common masks used by the public accomplish basically nothing for protection, since the sizes of the COVID-19 coronaviruses are much smaller than what those common masks can filter out. Such masks can, however, block larger contaminated particles from coughing, to some extent; however, aerosolized COVID-19 coronaviruses will still pass through essentially unimpeded.

  6. Delta execs just said on their earnings call that they were hopeful that the testing requirement and the mask mandates would be coming to an end.
    This 2 week extension is the shortest yet. Hospitals in Europe are not filling up; people are not dying in record numbers.
    While a reversal of these policies yesterday would have been nice, hopefully this is the last extension and we will be making progress.
    DAL execs said the mask and the testing mandates are the last hurdles to international demand recovery.

  7. These people actually don’t realize that when the GOP full takes power in 2024, (or sooner if a filibuster proof majority emerges in 22,) and outlaws the Democratic Party, (it will happen,) anyone associated with these mandates is going to federal prison, maybe forever.

  8. It’s laughable to think that anything will be different after those two weeks. They are simply hoping the latest variant will offer enough rise in cases to justify a longer extension.

    They have no intention of lifting the mandate. But lack the guts to say so. Spineless is the only word I can conjure. At least if they could be honest and say they have zero intention of lifting the mandate I’d respect their honesty.

  9. Once again the CDC follows the politics rather than science. The current decision is a compromise between reaffirming the needs for the “highly effective” past policies and the lack of evidence that the masks are really needed right now. This just another example of a simple bureaucratic procrastination. Otherwise, CDC should formulate clear criteria / thresholds in terms of number of cases, hospitalization, and/or vaccination rates when masks are needed. Somehow no one is asking CDC scientists and experts about such criteria.

  10. Don’t see how they can keep moving the goalposts without eventually getting real push back. Ever tease a dog keeping food just out of reach? That ends well for no one.

  11. The party of science! It’s so painfully obvious that this administration is completely out of touch and full of crap. We’d all have been better off with Trump in office. Grandpa Joe has lost it.

  12. The environmental damage alone from disposed masks will last us for a generation or more. Remember banning straws? Keep up the political theater CDC, just keep pushing.

  13. Twenty years later, people still have to take their shoes and belts off. They don’t like parting ways with ridiculous requirements.

  14. Sam -You are soooo correct!!!!tThanks for some sanity on this site!! But the lefists will not like your comments.. JetAway– masks are defenseless on the subways..get out the Armour!!!!
    Since the numbers are going up again–proof the masks do not work. If mandate gone the people worried will still wear their masks FOREVER.

  15. I’m pretty sure we still have to wear masks at the post office, and any other federally controlled jurisdiction. It’s not about the science; it’s about what Joe Biden has the constitutional authority on.

    Biden was elected to be vigilant about covid, and his voters are getting exactly what they asked for.

  16. They just can’t drop the political theater can they ? Just don’t want to give up any control…The inmates are running the asylum still…

  17. I am very happy about this. Never did like getting sick after flying. Hope they keep extending it.

  18. I commanded that no one in our company fly or use public transportation until this stupidity is reversed. We are enjoying the driving, in our own personal spaces, in freedom from communism. 1: I’ve personally had covid twice. I am an asthma patient, and a heart patient. I’m still standing. 2: Fauci has not made enough money on his bribery paybacks from pfizer and remdesavir, he has to keep this up for a hot minute. 3: masks hide identity of rats coming across the border, to the thrill of the demoncrats who are paying for all the child victims they paid for. One giant corrupt scam.
    When we destroyed the mafia in chicago and nyc years ago, they just moved into politics.
    The corruption runs deep in every corner.
    Until you prosecute the treason and corruption, your lives will continue to spiral into levels of depravity that you have never known. You have to fight at their level – dirty. They are winning this war.

  19. Papa Joe screws up again. Keep it up Papa and keep not following science to satisfy your lunatic fringe who are terrified of dying! Can’t wait to see what the good guys back in power do if you try to continue this silliness when they are sworn in.

  20. It is leadership by lowest common denominator. Unlike private/commercial America; that is supposed to judge each person and each situation on their own merit or risk/reward, the left leaning political leadership and bureaucracy skews its behavior to protect the minority…but why then do they attack the electoral college which is designed for the same purpose. Personally, I prefer personal responsibility, but the left’s education system by and large leaves the majority of the minority unprepared to make proper decisions. Democracy is hard. I feel for those unprepared to govern themselves. This is what decades of democratic policies in major population centers has brought us. Lots of work to course correct this country or we continue down the path of the few choosing for the many to the detriment of us all.

  21. Perhaps the mandate extensions are following a logarithmic scale. In two weeks, there will be a two-day extension, followed by a two-hour extension, followed by a two-minute extension . . .

  22. Yeah, I think about Trump being a big loser every time I spend $7/gallon to fill up on the way to the store to enjoy my 8% inflation. But hey, no more mean tweets!

  23. @Johhny — “I think it’s important to note that Trump is a big loser.”

    What an Irrelevant Non-Sequitor!

  24. Shawn Olson do the rest of us a big favor and stay home if you are so afraid and Johnny I don’t think DT gives a rats ass about your opinion as he flies around on his private jet, golfs on his own course and leads a pretty damn comfortable life. If that’s the definition of a loser I would like to join that club.

  25. The stupid is very strong in these comments. (except for the one about still taking off shoes and belts 20 years later). Enough with the wacky government conspiracies- the mostly underpaid government scientists are doing what they can with an often changing situation. Wait until we start seeing the heath care costs from Long Covid…

  26. The goal is to “monitor for any observable increase in severe virus outcomes as cases rise in parts of the country..out of abundance of caution.”

    What about that simple and scientifically sound explanation of the extension is difficult to understand? And how would a 2-week extension help anyone politically with an election that is still 7 months away?

    Inquiring minds wanna know!

  27. I honestly have no idea how or why anyone has been wearing them this far into CoViD. I haven’t worn one in an airport (and rarely keep it on in-flight) for the last year and a half. No one has ever said anything except one or two Karens on the plane. ZERO TSA employees have said anything as I walk up to show my ID maskless. Just stop wearing them and like magic, nothing happens, no consequences, and no death.

  28. @DCS – the extension does not help with an election. ending the mask mandate is part of a narrative of victory over the virus, which helps, and not ending the mandate motivates anger against them, people to sweep from office in order to ‘get our lives back’. I’m not saying I agree with that narrative exactly, but there’s no question it’s real *AND WHAT PRESIDENT BIDEN’S OWN POLLSTER ADVISES*

  29. Another week of cruising the Southern Caribbean, no masks onboard or any of the islands visited so far., Lots of people enjoying the sunshine, good food, and stiff drinks. FJB and his freak show supporters.

  30. When HIV was a fatal disease, people who infected others intentionally, recklessly, or negligently were subject to criminal and civil penalties. With Covid it is almost impossible to know who infected, sickened, hospitalized or killed who. Therefore most people commenting here don’t give a blank about the potential consequences of breathing on others.

  31. Masks stop spread by greatly reducing the amount of virus an infected person emits to the environment. Just having those most at risk wear masks won’t stop spread if infected asymptomatic people aren’t wearing them. The more spread there is, the greater the chance of mutations that could more virulent and more contagious.

  32. I am personally relieved that the mask mandates continue as are many of my friends and family members. My children are coming with their 3 month old and 2 1/2 year old from NY to California to visit us and without a mask mandate, they would have cancelled their trip. I personally still choose to wear a KN95 mask anytime I am indoors with strangers and on an airplane you are sitting so close to people you don’t know, it’s a no brainer. Maybe the answer is designating some flights for people who want to wear masks and other flights for people who don’t want to wear them so everyone gets what they need.

  33. @John — “Masks stop spread by greatly reducing the amount of virus an infected person emits to the environment. Just having those most at risk wear masks won’t stop spread if infected asymptomatic people aren’t wearing them. …”

    So you’re saying that those common masks can actually *stop* SARS-CoV-2 viral spreading? Are you aware about the dimensions of SARS-CoV-2 as compared to the filtering size capabilities with those common masks? Are you aware that those common masks do *not* form a tight seal on the faces of those who wear them? So can those “air gaps” allow SARS-CoV-2 to “sneak” inside or “leak” to the outside?

    Furthermore, IFF those common masks can actually *stop* the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, then *why* should it matter if asymptomatic people end up spreading? Shouldn’t those common masks successfully block/stop SARS-CoV-2 so that you (as the wearer) should *not* get infected, anyway?

    Finally, SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t mutate just because of simple spreading, as there are other dynamics at play with mutations that may or may *not* end up creating more lethal variations — for example, Omicron is more infectious, but much less lethal than Delta.

  34. @Gary Leff — So, what you are really saying is that the Administration’s decision to extend the mandate was driven by policy and not by politics because the politically “smart” thing to do would have been to lift rather than to extend the mask mandate, which would be consistent with the explanation that the extension was necessary to ““monitor for any observable increase in severe virus outcomes as cases rise in parts of the country..out of abundance of caution.”

    Some may think that this bad politics, but I actually happen to think that this is a case where good policy is also good politics.

  35. @DCS – No, they’re also keenly aware of the awkwardness declaring victory over the virus for July 4th last year. They don’t want to get called out for loosening restrictions and then seeing prevalence rise.

  36. 2 weeks. we’ve been hearing that for 2 years.

    Democrats and their supporters are defective and deserve cancer.

  37. @StrictlyFacts do you have a link for your totally scientific proof?

    Personally I’d rather we have masks be required forever on places like the subway — would keep me from getting the cold and flu. Airports, except maybe the security lines, we could do without them though — you’re not getting COVID or the flu from somebody breathing the next gate over.

  38. @Gary Leff – You would like for your explanation to be correct, but in this case the official explanation is the true and correct explanation because under this administration the CDC is functioning again as an independent disease control and prevention agency and not as an appendage of the White House, like in former guy’s administration. Everyone seems to be having a hard time making the adjustment…

  39. All you need to remember is they are lifting Title 42 for people coming into the country illegally, but law abiding citizens have had their mask mandate extended. I don’t care how much you hate Trump. These bastards need to pay at the poll beginning this fall.

  40. @David O — “… do you have a link for your totally scientific proof?”

    Of course! Have at it here —

    This is a long and very comprehensive document that is thoroughly referenced throughout, so you might need to spend a while reading it over. Often what counts as “common sense” does *not* hold up under *real* scientific scrutiny, so keep an open mind about contrary data that does *not* support the establishment narratives.

  41. @Ed
    I’m more afraid of being pushed in front of a train or shot than catching covid on the NYC subway.

  42. @DeeCeeEss,

    Wow. “…under this administration the CDC is functioning again as an independent disease control and prevention agency…” – hahahaha, Oh dude, thanks for the laugh, I needed that today.

    The only adjustment that needs to be made is to rid the White House of the clown show that’s been taking place since Jan 2020.

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