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Saturday, September 23, 2023

TSA to Extend Face Mask Mandate

At the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will extend the security directive for mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs for one month, through April 18.

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. 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 requirement had been due to end on March 18, having already been extended twice. Many in the travel industry had been hopeful that there would be no further extensions, particularly after CDC recently relaxed its mask guidance for communities where hospitals are not under high strain. CDC said almost 70% of the U.S. population lives in an area considered to be low or medium risk, and residents there are advised they can go without masks indoors.

A February 25 letter signed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as various travel industry associations called for the mask mandate to be relaxed for transportation. The letter, sent to Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said the U.S. is reaching an inflection point where endemic-focused policies can replace pandemic-driven restrictions.

“Given travel’s slow economic recovery, and in light of the improved public health metrics in the U.S. and medical advancements to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID-19, we encourage the Administration to immediately remove travel requirements that no longer fit with the current environment and to set clear timelines and metrics for when others will be lifted,” the letter read.

However, transportation hubs, where travelers from all over the country and world come together are still considered high risk. In TSA’s recently released tips for Spring Break travel, mask wearing features at the top of the list.  TSA anticipates average daily passenger throughput will surpass 90% of pre-pandemic levels for the duration of March, making terminals even more crowded and mask wearing more important.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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