The U.S Federal mask mandate, which has become an increasingly polarising issue among passengers and airline crew, has been extended yet again to May.
The U.S Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited the recent rise in COVID-19 cases and the new omicron subvariant, BA.2, as the reasons behind the latest extension.
The mandate was previously set to expire on 18 April.
To mask or not to mask
The CEO of Delta Air Lines echoed the thoughts held by many within the aviation industry saying “it’s time to let the masks go and let people decide.”
In late March, 10 pilots at major American airlines filed a lawsuit against the CDC over the continuation of the federal mask mandate.
Airlines and passengers are growing increasingly frustrated at the ever-continuing mandate. The mandatory mask requirement has acted as a trigger for violence and antisocial behaviour aboard aircraft. The FAA has reported that 75% of disruptive passenger reports were mask-related, and last year saw the most violent year on record in terms of disruptive passenger reports.
In 2022, more than 1100 unruly passenger events have been reported, and more than half were for mask violations.
Elsewhere, the U.S government and medical advisors seem to disagree. The Biden Administration has said that the mask mandate extension will allow public health leaders breathing room to accurately measure and determine the potential impact of new COVID-19 trends and threats like the BA.2 subvariant. They seem to be exercising a policy of caution, as echoed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President of the United States:
“It isn’t like things are static. Things are moving, we’re seeing an increase throughout the country.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki commented on the extension of the mask mandate on behalf of the Biden Administration:
“So what they’re trying to do is give a little bit more time to assess its potential impact the rise of the cases had on severe disease, including hospitalization and deaths and healthcare system capacity.”
The two-week extension will implore all U.S domestic flights to follow the mandate. Psaki said, “at the end of that two weeks they can determine what’s next after that.”
As the majority of the world seems to be moving on from mandatory mask regulations, and the aviation industry continues to enjoy high passenger numbers more akin to 2019 levels, the U.S seems to be hesitant to entirely embrace normality.