The Biden administration wasn’t quite ready to let the federal transportation mask mandate lapse, out of fear they’d look stupid if Covid-19 cases surged again. But they know the mandate is on its last legs. Every state is eliminating its indoor mask mandates (or has already done so). Even if cloth masks were effective against the Omicron variant, this mandate would do very little on its own.
The federal mask mandate for commercial airlines, airports, trains and buses was set to end March 18. It will be extended through April 18. That one month extension, announced a mere 8 days before the rule would have lapsed, is the shortest extension yet. And, barring unforeseen events, is likely to be the last.
Here's our alert that crossed at 11:00 a.m. RTRS U.S. WILL EXTEND MANDATE REQUIRING MASKS ON AIRPLANES, TRAINS, BUSES AND IN TRANSIT HUBS THROUGH APRIL 18 — ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
— davidshepardson (@davidshepardson) March 10, 2022
Already the 7 day moving average of confirmed cases is down 95% from peak. Boosters are widely available and highly protective against hospitalization. Treatments have become much more available. And the country as a whole is shifting from ‘delay cases’ (bend the curve to protect hospital capacity, and so that infections come when we have better protection available) to living with a less virulent strain: get vaccinated, stay home when sick, and seek care quickly if you need it.
The transportation mask mandate was never about the most effective way to slow spread. The masks that are permitted don’t help much, and airplane cabin environments are safer than indoor restaurants and bars. Instead it was about politics: transportation potentially implicated federal powers, it was the rule they could muster not the one that would help. And now they don’t to appear to be ‘giving up the fight’.
Yet politics demands that the mask mandate will be lifted. The administration is heading into midterm elections with control of both the House and Senate in the balance. They don’t want to be imposing rules on people in a way that’s seen as dated and out of touch. And that’s doubly true now with gas prices elevated and markets in retreat in the face of inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Since the mandate was issued at the start of 2021 I said it would end before the midterms. In 2022 I said that it would see one more extension and that I guessed that would be for two months, but I was uncertain of this. A one-month extension was certainly within the range of expected outcomes, though it’s time for the mask mandate and the testing requirement to enter the U.S. to end.