Big Island Coronavirus Updates

Federal Government Extends Mask Requirement For Public Transportation

By Nathan Christophel
April 17, 2022, 5:00 PM HST
* Updated April 17, 3:07 PM
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Those who use and work in public transportation and transportation hubs will continue to be required to wear masks for at least another two weeks.

People wear masks while riding a Hele-On bus Dec. 10, 2021, in Hilo. The federal mask requirement for public transportation was extended until May 3. (Photo by Nathan Christophel)

Hawai’i County Mass Transit Administrator John Andoh confirmed in an email to Big Island Now that the federal mask requirement for public transportation was extended to May 3. The Transportation Security Administration extended the mandate based on a recommendation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The mandate was originally supposed to be lifted Monday, April 18.

“CDC continues to monitor the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, especially the BA.2 subvariant that now makes up more than 85% of U.S. cases,” said a statement from the TSA about the mask requirement extension. “Since early April 2022, there have been increases in the seven-day moving average of COVID-19 cases in the United States. During the 15-day extension period, CDC will assess the potential impact the recent rise of COVID-19 cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations, deaths and health care system capacity. TSA will continue to coordinate closely with CDC and communicate any changes to this requirement with the public.”

The CDC has recommended since Jan. 29, 2021, the use of masks on public transportation and inside transportation. The agency issued an order requiring face masks to be worn by all people while on public transportation, including buses, airplanes, taxis and ride-shares.

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All people, regardless of their vaccination status, also are required to wear a mask upon entering or while inside transportation hubs, such as airports and bus terminals. However, unless otherwise required by the operator or a government entity, people are not required to wear a mask outside transportation hubs.

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The Federal Transit Administration said on its website that during the extension period, the CDC will work with the U.S. Department of Transportation to determine if and under what circumstances masks should be required for public transportation in the future.

“Any changes will be based on the COVID-19 community levels, risk of new variants, national data and the latest science,” the FTA said.

The CDC says on its website that public transportation and transportation hubs can have large numbers of people gathering, making physical distancing difficult. Many people also need to use public transportation for everyday purposes.

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Personnel operating public transportation and passengers, including young children, could be unvaccinated and some might be at increased risk of severe illness, including some who might not be protected by vaccination because of weakened immune systems, according to the CDC.

“Such people may not have the option to disembark or relocate to another area of the conveyance, such as on an airplane during flight or a bus or train while it is in motion,” the CDC website says.

The agency adds that an exposure to COVID on public transportation or at a transportation hub can have consequences to many communities if people become infected after they travel.

“Correct and consistent use of masks in indoor areas on public transportation conveyances and indoor areas of transportation hubs will protect travelers and workers, enable safe and responsible travel during the pandemic and help to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” the CDC says.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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