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A federal mask mandate for planes, other public transit expires April 18, but Sen. Ed Markey wants the CDC, TSA to extend it

MassLive.com logo MassLive.com 3/28/2022 Alison Kuznitz, masslive.com
The Green Line at the MBTA's Arlington station in Boston on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. © Alison Kuznitz/masslive.com/TNS The Green Line at the MBTA's Arlington station in Boston on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey wants passengers on planes and other public transportation to keep their masks on and is asking federal officials to extend the current mandate beyond its mid-April expiration date.

The mask mandate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and supported by the Transportation Security Administration — is slated to expire April 18.

Markey noted in his Monday letter to officials that masking is a critical coronavirus mitigation tool on public transit, since transportation hubs “bring together diverse groups of people in enclosed spaces for extended periods.”

“Although cases of COVID-19 in the United States have declined from this winter’s peak, the virus continues to pose a threat to the public, particularly for seniors, the immunocompromised, and individuals with disabilities,” Markey said in his letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and TSA Administrator David Pekoske. “The emergence of a new and even more transmissible variant only confirms that COVID remains a serious, ongoing danger. For that reason, I urge CDC to consider extending its mask order and continue requiring masks on public and commercial transportation.”

U.S. Sen. Ed Markey urged policymakers to ensure the Green Line Extension, designed to spur economic opportunity, doesn't lead to displacement during a press conference Monday, March 21, 2022, at Lechmere station. © Alison Kuznitz/masslive.com/TNS U.S. Sen. Ed Markey urged policymakers to ensure the Green Line Extension, designed to spur economic opportunity, doesn't lead to displacement during a press conference Monday, March 21, 2022, at Lechmere station.

Markey provided no timeline for his request to extend the mask mandate. But he asked the CDC and TSA to respond to a series of questions by April 11 on the agencies’ revised masking framework, with Markey emphasizing the need to protect vulnerable public transit users.

The Malden Democrats request comes as airlines are putting increasing pressure on the White House to drop the pandemic-era mask mandate.

“The high level of immunity in the U.S., availability of high-quality masks for those who wish to use them, hospital-grade cabin air, widespread vaccine availability and newly available therapeutics provide a strong foundation for the Administration to lift the mask mandate and predeparture testing requirements. We urge you to do so now,” Airlines for America, a trade group, wrote in a recent letter to the Biden administration.

Markey in his letter probed Walensky and Pekoske about what public health data allows the universal mask mandate to expire, plus what metrics would be consulted when deciding whether to reinstate the requirement.

“The mask mandate is particularly important for individuals with weakened immune systems who may receive less protection from COVID-19 vaccines; for individuals that must use public transportation to seek needed health care, the protection afforded by masking requirements is essential,” Markey wrote. “Even as case counts have fluctuated over the past two years, CDC and TSA have maintained their mask orders because they provide passengers increased protection from the virus while reducing community transmission and allowing vital modes of commerce to continue.”

Markey asked how modified mask rules would impact seniors, as well individuals who are immunocompromised or have disabilities. He also sought clarity on possible actions and guidance that could come from the CDC to protect “high risk populations.”

The federal government should not ignore the lessons learned from the past two years, Markey wrote — especially as fears swirl over the new omicron variant.

“Masks work and declines in cases are unfortunately often followed by new spikes ...” Markey wrote. “Now is not the time to abandon low-cost, effective policies, such as universal masking on public transportation, which save lives and enable all Americans, including seniors, the immunocompromised, and individuals with disabilities, to safely participate in society.”

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