The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has extended the federal mask mandate for transportation for two weeks, citing the small recent increase in COVID-19 cases.
The order, which was to expire on April 18, will remain in place until May 3 to let officials at the agency assess whether the BA.2 virus subvariant drives a fresh wave of cases.
“In order to assess the potential impact the rise of cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity, the CDC order will remain in place at this time,” the CDC said in a statement.
The order was first imposed in January 2021 and applies to trains, airplanes, and other modes of transportation under purview of federal officials, as well as transportation hubs such as airports.
The CDC has repeatedly extended the order, despite growing opposition to the move.
Leaders of 10 U.S. airlines in a letter last month urged the Biden administration to rescind the order, noting that COVID-19 metrics have plunged and that authorities across the country have rolled back or eliminated restrictions.
Separately, groups of pilots and flight attendants filed lawsuits against the CDC and its parent agency, alleging the mask order is unlawful.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, said in a statement that the latest extension “simply prolongs the misery that passengers and flight attendants are being forced to endure.”
“This is not evidence-based, but simply more COVID theater,” he said.
The CDC’s move came after it said it would allow the expiration of Title 42, a pandemic-era order that enabled quick expulsion of illegal immigrants because they might carry the virus that causes COVID-19.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the action was taken because COVID-19 cases fell by over 95 percent between January and March and because more of the population has some form of immunity from vaccination and/or prior infection.
According to data reported to the CDC, about 36,300 COVID-19 cases were recorded on April 11. That was a slight increase from the week prior.
COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths are also relatively flat after bottoming out following January’s peaks.
Some experts pin the rise in cases on BA.2, a subvariant of the Omicron strain of the CCP virus, which causes COVID-19.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Ashish Jha had said earlier this week that a mask mandate extension was “absolutely on the table” but that it would be up to the CDC whether to allow the mandate to expire or extend it once again.