WEDNESDAY, Aug. 18, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Amid a surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant, a mask mandate for travelers and employees on U.S. airline flights and public transportation will be extended until Jan. 18, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said Tuesday.
Airline industry representatives have been briefed about the extension and the TSA planned to discuss it with unions on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
The mask order was first issued by the Biden administration on Jan. 29 and is based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 pandemic guidelines. It was set to expire on Sept. 13.
The extension will be strictly enforced by U.S. airlines, according to the industry trade group, Airlines for America, and the U.S. Travel Association said the move "has the travel industry's full support," the AP reported.
The nation's largest flight attendants union said the extension will help keep passengers and aviation workers safe.
"We have a responsibility in aviation to keep everyone safe and do our part to end the pandemic, rather than aid the continuation of it," said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. "We all look forward to the day masks are no longer required, but we're not there yet."
An expert said the TSA's decision will reassure people who are concerned about the surging number of COVID-19 cases in the United States, which have increased 64% from two weeks ago and are at the highest levels in more than six months, the AP reported.
"I anticipate it will make them feel more confident about traveling through the fall and winter, including the holiday season," Henry Harteveldt, a travel-industry analyst with Atmosphere Research Group, told the AP.
"Those who don't take the virus seriously will probably complain -- but they have no choice but to suck it up and wear their masks if they want to take an airline flight somewhere," Harteveldt added.
The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday that airlines have reported 3,889 incidents involving unruly passengers this year, and 74% of those incidents involved refusing to wear a mask.
Visit the TSA for more on travel and COVID-19.