Masks are still required on planes, trains and buses despite CDC loosening guideline

Hoboken, N.J. Mayor Ravinder Bhalla with his wife Navneet, pose with homemade masks early April. (Photo: Twitter)

WASHINGTON – Fully vaccinated people riding on buses, trains and airplanes must continue to wear a mask, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday May 13, 2021, even as it said they could go without one in most other indoor settings.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency is continuing to review its travel policies, but she did not explain the reasoning Thursday during a briefing on the new recommendations.

“Right now for travel we are asking for people to continue to wear their masks,” she said.

The Biden administration issued an order in January requiring masks on public transportation. At the end of April, the Transportation Security Administration extended enforcement of the rules through Sept. 13. The CDC advised against all travel through much of the pandemic, but last month it said taking a trip posed a low risk to people who have been vaccinated.

Airplanes, in particular, have become battlegrounds over mask enforcement, with the Federal Aviation Administration stepping in to levy hefty fines on disorderly passengers. When the TSA extended its order, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, said it would help keep passengers and aviation workers safe.

While it’s not clear that airplanes present a greater risk of transmission than other indoor spaces – some studies suggest that they are safer – requiring masks on planes could help enforcement of the policy, especially because flight attendants have no reliable way to know which passengers have had their shots.

The new CDC guidance says fully vaccinated people are at low risk of becoming sick with covid-19 or spreading the coronavirus that causes it. For that reason, the agency said people generally do not need to wear masks or follow social-distancing protocols, a significant step toward resuming pre-pandemic life.

The agency’s guidance to the public has evolved as it considers new data.

On Wednesday, the CDC said passengers on cruise ships, which became notorious for virus outbreaks early in the pandemic, did not need to wear masks unless they were in a crowd. The agency said that recommendation was consistent with its other mask policies.

International travel continues to be subject to stricter rules, with visitors barred from many nations, including much of Europe and India. Fully vaccinated people coming to the United States from other countries must still get tested within three days of boarding a flight and are advised by the CDC to get tested three to five days after arriving.

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