As officials weigh the risks of the latest omicron subvariant against rising frustrations among states and industry executives, the Biden administration is under increasing pressure to lift the transportation mask mandate, which is set to expire on April 18, as officials weigh the risks of the latest omicron subvariant against rising frustrations among states and industry executives.
“We hear from our operators all over the country that customers are choosing not to take the bus to commute, not to take the bus to travel between cities, or not to take a tour or charter somewhere because of the mask requirements,” said Peter Pantuso, president and CEO of the American Bus Association (ABA).
Last month, the president of the motorcoach and group tour association was among the transportation CEOs who wrote to Vice President Joe Biden, pushing him to repeal the federal mask rule. According to Pantuso, the industry has been struggling as a result of the pandemic, and its troubles have been exacerbated by increased oil prices as a result of the US decision to ban Russian energy imports.
“We’ve been hit, and we’re still fighting.” “We lost upwards of 40% of our industry’s enterprises as a result of the epidemic, and we’re losing companies every day,” he told The Hill. “So whatever we can do to aid that recovery, even if it’s just lifting the masks and getting more passengers back on the bus, is vital.”
The board of directors of Airlines for America, which includes executives from United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and American Airlines, issued a letter to Biden describing how they had worked with COVID-19 procedures and “leaned into the science at every stage.” “However, much has changed since these measures were enacted, and they no longer make sense in the current public health context,” they stated in a March 23 letter, citing lowering death and hospitalization rates as examples.
They claimed that the masking requirement should be removed from the transportation COVID-19 rules since it did not make sense to mandate masking on flights but not in other congregate situations such as restaurants or sporting events. “It’s crucial to remember that our staff has been responsible for enforcing both the mask and pre-departure testing standards for the past two years,” they continued. “This is not a job for which they have been trained, and it exposes them to everyday challenges from disgruntled clients.” This, in turn, has a negative impact on their own health.”
In addition to corporate pressure, 21 states have sued the Biden administration to prevent the federal mask regulation from going into effect. “President Biden’s misguided, heavy-handed, and unconstitutional travel regulations are upsetting travelers and causing confusion on public transportation,” said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) in a statement after the complaint was announced. “By immediately removing Biden’s unlawful public transportation mandates, we can relieve some of the pressure on travelers and those working in the travel business.”
The federal mask order, which was first implemented shortly after Biden took office and was primarily recently extended by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) until April 18, was most recently extended by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) last month until April 18. The one-month extension was based on a CDC recommendation, according to an administration official who spoke to The Hill at the time.
“During that period, the CDC will collaborate with government entities to help inform a revised policy framework for when and under what conditions masks should be required in the public transportation corridor,” the official continued. After the CDC’s metrics better accounted for hospital admissions and hospitalizations, the CDC significantly loosened its masking guidelines.
However, health officials are keeping an eye on the public’s reaction to the omicron subvariant, BA.2, a novel strain that could influence the administration’s next move on the mask rule. The BA. 2 strain, according to Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University professor, public health expert, and contributor to The Hill, is more transmissible than the original omicron strain.
“…BA. 2 appears to be a little less pathogenic than alpha or delta, but it still has the potential to send a lot of patients to the hospital, mainly the unvaccinated and elderly,” he said.
Nonetheless, Gostin predicted that the Biden administration would decline to renew its recommendation to prolong the transportation mask mandate. “I would fully expect them to shift to a mask optional policy,” he said, adding that he had it “on quite strong authority” that unless the United States sees an inflow of infections linked to BA. 2, “I would fully expect them to go to a mask optional policy.”
The following is a list of the 47 states where the Pledge of Allegiance must be spoken. He acknowledged that the administration is under “enormous pressure” to lift it, both publicly and politically, and he later added, “I believe that the administration would lose the confidence of the American public if it extended it longer unless they were… a real resurgent pandemic in the United States in mid-to late-April.”
Transportation regulations are based on CDC and COVID task force guidelines, according to a senior government official. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not respond to several requests for comment.
After being asked about probable new CDC recommendations in light of the multi-state lawsuit, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said that authorities may have an impending statement on the topic during a press briefing earlier this week. “I’ll state that these are ongoing discussions.” And, of course, as we have further information on this, we’ll let you know,” Bedingfield told reporters.
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In an interview, Tom Frieden, the former head of the CDC from 2009 to 2017, agreed that if the COVID-19 caseload remained low in the coming weeks, it would be difficult to justify keeping the mask mandate in place. However, the physician, who is also a writer to The Hill, cautioned that there were still a few weeks until April 18 and that BA.2 cases in the United States could rise.
“Cases are at a lot lower level than they have been in the epidemic for a long time, and they are continuing to fall down.” Now, the unfortunate reality is that a comeback with the BA.2 variation is not unlikely, so it’s quite plausible that… the requirement could be lifted, and we could see a significant spike in cases, so that could certainly happen,” Frieden added.