The TSA Mask Mandate for Flights and Other Public Transportation Will Be Extended to January 18, 2022. The current mask mandate was to expire September 13, 2021, but in a statement, the Transportation Security Administration said “TSA will extend the directives through January 18, 2022,” and confirmed that “The purpose of TSA's mask directive is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation.” The extension will cover the two busiest travel periods in the U.S., Thanksgiving in late November and the holiday period, including New Year's.
The federal transportation mask mandate applies to not only air travel, but all indoor transportation hubs and travel, including buses, trains, subways, trolleys, taxis, ride shares such as Uber/Lyft, and ferries.
The highly infectious Delta variant has changed the trajectory of U.S. COVID-19 cases. Average daily cases in the U.S. reached a low in late June, when the 7-day average of new daily cases was ~11,000. By late July, that number quadrupled, and as of August 17, 2021, the 7-day average of new daily cases was nearly 140,000, over 12X what it was just two months ago. COVID-19 hot spots such as Florida are even more dramatic, going from a 7-day average of just over 1000 cases a day to nearly 30,000 cases a day, over 28X, in less than 2 months.
In contrast to the earlier Alpha variant of COVID-19, the CDC reports that the Delta variant is more than twice as infectious, and some studies estimate that it is 5-6X as infectious as Alpha. While vaccines, particularly the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, remain highly effective in preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19, there have been more breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated people amid the Delta variant surge. A recent New York study found that vaccine protection dropped from 92 percent mostly pre-Delta in May 2021, to 80 percent effective in late July 2021, when the Delta variant accounted for over 80 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
The TSA has said face mask violators may be fined up to $1500 and the FAA has announced that unruly passengers face fines up to $35,000. In practice U.S. airlines, particularly United Airlines, rarely take severe action against face mask violators, although they do reserve the right to ban the passenger from future flights. Roughly 75 percent of unruly passenger incidents reported to the FAA to date in 2021 have involved passengers' refusal to wear a face mask.
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