Despite great pressure from airlines, the hospitality industry and Republican lawmakers to lift the rule requiring masks on planes and other public transportation, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the federal transportation mask requirement for two weeks on Wednesday, five days before it was set to expire. The mask mandate now expires May 3, if it is not extended yet again.
Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the new White House Covid response coordinator, said in an interview that the additional time will allow the C.D.C. to assess whether BA.2, a subvariant of the coronavirus, is going to become a “ripple or a wave” in the United States. The C.D.C. will use that information to determine whether the mandate should be extended further, he said.
“If the infection numbers are relatively low, as they are right now, then I think it’s reasonable to remove mask mandates,” he said, emphasizing that it’s a C.D.C. decision.
In recent days, new U.S. cases have started ticking up again. As of Tuesday, the nation was reporting more than 31,000 new cases a day on average, 8 percent more than two weeks earlier, according to a New York Times database, though the case counts have not approached the peak seen in the winter Omicron surge. Reported cases may be an undercount of the virus’s true spread to some degree, since access to at-home tests has increased and the results of such tests are often not officially reported.
It’s not yet clear how severe the impact of these cases will be, Dr. Jha said, noting that BA.2 has caused far more hospitalizations and deaths in the United Kingdom than it has in Israel, two countries where it appeared earlier than in the United States and where it spread widely.
In recent months, airlines and the hospitality industry have been lobbying the White House to overturn both the mask rule and the requirement to test before returning to the United States from abroad. In one of the most recent letters, dated April 8, Airlines for America, an industry group representing eight airlines; the U.S. Travel Association, a trade group representing more than 1,000 public and private organizations catering to business and leisure travelers; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobbying group; and the American Hotel and Lodging Association, which represents thousands of hotels, sent a letter to Dr. Jha, arguing that what they see as unnecessary measures were hurting the country economically.
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