Bipartisan Group of Senators Ask CDC to Lift Mask Guidance for Travel

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 26: U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI) (L) and Susan Collins (R-ME) head for the Senate Floor for a vote at the U.S. Capitol July 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. GOP efforts to pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, …
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A bipartisan group of senators is requesting updated travel guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as individuals are still required to wear masks at transportation hubs and on common modes of travel, such as aircraft.

“We are writing regarding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) order and the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) security directive to require the wearing of masks by individuals on public transportation conveyances—such as airplanes, buses, and trains—or at transportation hubs to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19,” the group of senators, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Jerry Moran (R-KS), wrote in a letter to federal health agency officials.

While they said they support measures to curb the spread of the Chinese coronavirus, they emphasized their support of taking steps to “safely lift restrictions when appropriate.”

“We understand that CDC and TSA issued and have maintained the mask requirement for travel for several reasons, including that public transportation conveyances and transportation hubs are locations where many people gather, physical distancing can be difficult, and the option to get off or move to another area is not always available,” they wrote, noting the agency’s updated mask guidance for fully vaccinated people.

“In May, the CDC announced new guidance that fully vaccinated individuals could resume activities without wearing a mask or staying six feet apart,” they wrote, reminding the agency of its vow to continue to update its guidance for travel:

As there has not yet been any change in the requirement for masks while traveling, we request an update on the CDC’s and TSA’s process for updating the mask requirement for fully vaccinated individuals and what the science is showing about the transmission of COVID-19 for fully vaccinated individuals while traveling.  Specifically, we request answers by no later than July 12, 2021, to the following questions:

The questions include:

  1. What has the CDC learned about the transmission of COVID-19 on airplanes and other forms of transportation for fully vaccinated individuals?
  2. What additional factors beyond how COVID-19 spreads, such as the impact on flight attendants or airline operations, are informing the mask requirement for travel?
  3. Would removing the mask requirement for travel for fully vaccinated people encourage vaccination against COVID-19?
  4. Would lifting the mask requirement for fully vaccinated travelers create administrability challenges?
  5. What steps have the CDC, TSA, and other relevant federal agencies taken together to update the travel guidance and mask requirement?

“If the requirement for wearing masks while traveling can be safely lifted and would serve the public health interest, then we believe it would benefit the traveling public,” the lawmakers concluded.

This is not the first time lawmakers have expressed concern over the lingering federal mask mandate. Last week, Senate Democrats blocked an effort led by Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), both of whom aimed to end the federal mask mandate requiring masks to be worn on public transportation.

“Now, the science is clear that broad mask mandates aren’t necessary. Unfortunately, the CDC has decided to buck the science when it comes to travel and it is still requiring face masks on public transportation,” Scott, who introduced the Stop Mandating Additional Requirements for Travel (SMART) Act, said at the time.

According to the CDC, masks are still required “on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within, or out of the United States and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.” This month, the CDC slightly amended the requirement, allowing individuals to forgo masks in outdoor areas of conveyances or transportation hubs.

The news comes as officials at the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) recommend the wearing of masks again, even for vaccinated people, due to fears of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

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