The Transportation Security Administration confirmed Tuesday that it is extending its mask mandate for travelers using public transportation through January, drawing out a policy that was set to expire next month.
The decision comes as the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are surging in several parts of the United States, particularly in states with low vaccination rates and as the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus heightens the risk of spreading and catching the disease.
“TSA will extend the directives through Jan. 18, 2022,” a spokesperson for the agency told HuffPost. “The purpose of TSA’s mask directive is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation.”
TSA, part of the Department of Homeland Security, regulates safety procedures across all modes of public transportation, including railways and buses, though its primary focus is airport and air travel security. Issues around mask-wearing have been a significant problem for airlines throughout the pandemic. There have been nearly 3,000 reports of mask-related incidents with unruly airline passengers so far this year, the TSA said this week.
The extended mask mandate ― which requires travelers to wear masks while in airports, airplanes and other transportation hubs ― was first put into effect by President Joe Biden’s administration in January through an executive order. Though airlines were independently requiring masks before Biden came into office, former President Donald Trump stopped short of a TSA mask mandate and said airports and airlines were simply “strongly encouraged” to make their own mask requirements.
Biden’s original mask mandate expired in May but was extended through Sept. 13 before Tuesday’s extension into January.
Canada, meanwhile, announced last week that it’s going a step further and will require commercial passengers traveling by air, rail or large ship to be fully vaccinated in the coming months.