The Biden Administration is facing a potential backlash of criticism if it again extends the federal transportation mask mandate.
A decision on whether to let the mandate expire on Monday, April 18 or to extend it to a 15th month – or beyond – for anyone traveling through an airport or on an airplane, train or bus will be made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But just hours after new White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha appeared on NBC’s ‘Today Show’ on Monday morning and said an extension is “absolutely” on the table, industry groups reacted quickly.
Airlines, travel groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to Jha asking him to intervene in the decision and call for an end to the mandate, according to Reuters News Service.
“The science clearly supports lifting the mask mandate, particularly in the context of recent CDC guidance, which found that the overwhelming majority of the U.S. population no longer needs to wear masks indoors,” the letter said.
The White House made the decision last month to extend the mandate another 30 days to April 18, but that appeared to be mostly out of precaution. Positive COVID case numbers had started dropping precipitously to the point where many cities and communities had ended coronavirus protocols – including wearing masks in schools and at restaurants.
But, just a month later, the rise of the new – and more transmissible – BA.2 subvariant of the virus has begun kicking up the numbers again. That includes a spate of U.S. government officials who tested positive for COVID-19 last week following a Washington D.C. dinner.
“I know the CDC is working on developing a scientific framework for how to answer that. We’re going to see that framework come out in the next few days,” Jha said on the Today Show.
The mask mandate has been the bane of airlines’ existence since being put into place last year. Of the nearly 6,000 verbal and physical incidents at airports and on planes reported to the Federal Aviation Administration in 2021, 73 percent of them were related to wearing a mask.