WASHINGTON, Dec 1 (Reuters) - 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.
A formal announcement extending the requirements through
March 18 is expected on Thursday, the sources said. The White
House and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
declined to comment. The TSA in August extended the
transportation mask order through Jan. 18.
Biden plans to discuss the U.S. strategy for fighting
COVID-19 this winter on Thursday and the transit mask extension
is expected to be part of his remarks.
The White House also plans to announce stricter testing
rules for international visitors. The U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed late on Tuesday it is
working to impose stricter COVID-19 testing rules for air
travelers entering the United States amid concerns about the
The first known U.S. case of the Omicron variant was
confirmed on Wednesday - a fully vaccinated person in California
who returned to the United States from South Africa on Nov. 22
and tested positive seven days later.
On Monday, the United States barred most foreign nationals
who have been in eight southern African countries. The CDC told
airlines late on Tuesday it would require them to turn over
passenger contact information for all travelers who have been in
those countries - and will forward that to state and public
The current CDC order, which has been in place since soon
after Biden took office in January, requires masks to be worn by
all travelers on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis
and ride-shares and at transportation hubs such as airports, bus
or ferry terminals, train and subway stations, and seaports.
His predecessor, Donald Trump, rejected requests from U.S.
public health agencies to impose the requirements in transit -
even though airlines and some other transportation modes had
Government agencies briefed industry officials about the
change late on Wednesday, sources told Reuters.
CAUSE OF FRICTION
The mask requirements have been the source of friction,
especially aboard U.S. airlines, where some travelers have
refused to wear masks.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which has instituted a
"zero tolerance" enforcement effort on unruly passengers, said
on Tuesday that since Jan. 1, it had received reports from
airlines of 3,923 passengers refusing to wear masks.
In some U.S. states, transportation hubs are among the only
places where masks are still required.
The White House has been debating a number of changes to
strengthen international testing.
Currently, vaccinated international air travelers can
present a negative test result obtained within three days from
their point of departure. Nearly all foreign nationals must be
vaccinated to enter the United States. Unvaccinated travelers
currently must get a negative COVID-19 test within one day of
The CDC plans to announce a new one-day testing requirement
that would apply equally to U.S. citizens as well as foreign
nationals and could take effect as early as next week.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Diane Craft and