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Biden administration expected to extend public transit mask mandate

President Joe Biden's administration will extend requirements for travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains and buses and at airports and train stations through mid-March, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters, amid concerns about a new COVID-19 variant.

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The Biden administration on Thursday is expected to announce that a federal mask mandate for public transportation will be extended into mid-March, two sources told NBC News on Wednesday.

The mask requirement for buses, trains and planes is currently set to expire on Jan. 18. The requirement also applies to airports and train stations.

Read more: Pakistan makes masks mandatory as virus cases climb

A measure to combat Omicron variant 

The extension, which was first reported by Reuters, comes as the country has been preparing to combat the omicron variant of the coronavirus. A formal announcement is expected at some point Thursday, the sources said, when President Joe Biden is expected to lay out his administration’s plan for combating Covid-19 this winter.

Mask requirements on airplanes in particular have contributed to violent outbursts by some passengers who have refused to abide by the rules. As of last month, the Federal Aviation Administration said there were 5,114 reports of unruly passengers and 3,710 reports of passengers refusing to wear a face mask since the beginning of the year.

Ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, Attorney General Merrick Garland directed government prosecutors to make federal crimes on commercial airliners a priority after the surge in attacks.

The administration in August extended the previous mask mandate to last until January.

A White House official told NBC earlier this week that the administration is also weighing new testing requirements for international travelers. The official said the administration is continuing “to evaluate the appropriate measures to protect the American people from Covid-19 and the new variant, including “considering more stringent testing requirements for international travel.”

Read more: Homemade masks effective against COVID-19: study

“Policy discussions are ongoing across the government and no final decisions have been made,” the official added

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that even fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor spaces where community transmission of the virus is “substantial or high.” Currently, roughly 85 percent of U.S. counties meet that threshold, which is defined as at least 50 new cases weekly per 100,000 residents.

 

Reuters with additional input by GVS 

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