Even though a US judge struck down the federal mask mandate, again allowing passengers to board flights without face coverings, the CDC – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is adamant people must not let their guards down just yet. In fact, the entity has issued a statement on May 3 urging Americans to continue wearing masks when traveling.
The move is set to have reverberations across the country, especially now that countless airlines have removed their mask requirements, and even popular tourist attractions like Disney have stopped policing mask usage within parks. Still, as per the CDC recommendation, everyone aged 2 and older should cover their faces in public transportation.
This includes airplanes, trains, buses and all indoor areas of transportation hubs:
What Is The Official CDC Recommendation?
Throughout the pandemic, the CDC has been a key player in advising the White House on the epidemiological risks and the health crisis. Despite there being a general push for a broader loosening of restrictions, CDC officials have continued to adopt a more conservative stance in their Covid management, leading many to call them ‘overcautious‘.
Whether due to a higher of caution, or simply a different approach to Covid compared to other governing bodies, the CDC is reiterating air travelers should wear a ‘well-fitting mask or respiration over the nose and mouth’. They must do so in order to ‘protect themselves and those around them’ and ‘keep travel and public transportation safer for everyone’.
The renewed advice notoriously clashes with an industry-wide trend of treating Covid as an endemic disease. For two weeks now, American travelers have had the freedom to assess their own Covid risks and choose to wear masks or not, as opposed to earlier on in the pandemic, when they were mandatory in most indoor settings.
Regardless of this trend, the CDC does not agree it is time to dump masks, and considers wearing them ‘beneficial’, especially in ‘crowded or poorly ventilated locations’. On top of that, the health agency is encouraging industry operators and hubs, including airlines and airports, to ‘support mask wearing’ by all.
Will Airlines Reinstate The Mask Requirement After The Latest CDC Recommendation?
At present at least, it looks extremely unlikely airlines will fall in line, with many having immediately dropped their mask mandates once the federal ruling was overturned. Airlines are also advocating for passengers’ right to choose, and some went as far as allowing more vigilant customers to cancel their flights if boarding a mask-free plane is an issue for them.
In general, while airlines will not object to passengers who are wary of traveling without masks, few continue to recommend their usage or actively promote the protective measure. Regardless of this newfound wave of freedom, the CDC reasserts that their recommendation is ‘based on the currently available data’, which indicate masks are still needed.
As they explain, this data includes an ‘understanding of domestic and global epidemiology, circulating variants and their impact on disease severity and vaccine effectiveness’. The CDC has also made projections of infection trends in the upcoming months, which seem to have indicated masks will be needed in the long-term.
In summary, the health agency remains a staunch advocate for mask wearing, being one of the entities behind the Justice Department’s decision to appeal the current mask ruling. However, recent remarks by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg have shown the CDC’s influence on the White House is waning, especially concerning mask usage.
When asked at a Senate hearing whether the Biden Administration wanted to reimpose the mask mandate, Buttigieg stated simply that ‘the appeal concerns whether the CDC has the authority to require masks in this pandemic or in any pandemic’.
He proceeded by revealing that, based on the available data on April 13, when the mask mandate was extended for 15 further days, ‘it should have been allowed to expire’, and that its extension was a ‘CDC decision’. Now, while it recommends masks are worn by the public when flying, the health agency has stopped short of considering them mandatory.
Will The U.S. Ever Scrap Covid Mandates For Good?
Covid is no longer as disruptive as it was six months ago. In late 2021, as countries grappled with an unexpected surge in infections driven by the Omicron variant, both travel restrictions and social curbs remained the norm. Now, the world is not only ready, but eager to reopen, with countries dropping pandemic-era rules en masse.
Due to lower infection rates and the world’s fast-paced reopening, which saw once-extremely strict countries roll back measures, and ahead of the United States even, restriction-wary Americans have brought into question the need for upholding mask mandates in the country.
Irrespective of official CDC recommendation, mask mandates seem to be gone around the U.S., though the same cannot be said about testing for U.S.-bound international travelers. Currently, the White House has no plans to drop the rule anytime soon. This indicates conservatism in tackling Covid, backed by an ever-reluctant CDC, will continue being a challenge for a full U.S. reopening.
Currently, 44 countries in total have removed all their entry requirements, as well as a majority of internal mandates, with the European nations of Serbia, Kosovo and Croatia being the latest examples. In stark contrast, the United States continues to apply some of the strictest entry measures right now, and has infamously become one of the last in the world to still impose testing requirements for entry.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories