By ZEKE MILLER – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it is extending the statewide mask requirement on public transit by 15 days as it monitors a spike in COVID-19 cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it would extend the order, which was due to expire on April 18, to May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant, which is now being tested US is responsible for the vast majority of cases
“To assess the potential impact of the increase in cases on major illnesses, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity, the CDC rule will remain in effect at this time,” the agency said in a statement.
When the Transportation Security Administration, which enforces the rule for planes, buses, trains and interchanges, extended the requirement last month, the CDC said it hoped to implement a more flexible masking strategy that would have replaced the statewide requirement.
The mask mandate is the most visible vestige of government restrictions to combat the pandemic, and possibly the most controversial. A spate of abusive and sometimes violent incidents on planes have been largely attributed to disputes over mask-wearing.
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Critics have seized on the fact that states have rolled back rules requiring masks in restaurants, stores and other indoor settings, and yet COVID-19 cases have fallen sharply since the Omicron variant peaked in mid-January.
In recent weeks, there has been a slight spike in cases driven by the BA.2 strain, with daily confirmed cases rising from about 25,000 a day to more than 30,000 nationwide. Those numbers are too low because many people are now testing positive in at-home tests that go unreported to public health officials.
Serious illness and death usually delay infection by several weeks. The CDC is waiting for evidence on whether the increase in cases correlates with an increase in side effects before announcing a less restrictive mask guideline for travel.
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