Commuters wear masks and social distance while riding an M...

Commuters wear masks and social distance while riding an M Train on Tuesday in New York City's subway system.  Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

The Transportation Security Administration has extended the nationwide mask mandate on airplanes, buses and trains through April 18 while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to reassess the policy.

The requirement, which is enforced by the TSA, was set to expire March 18, but was extended by a month following the CDC’s recommendation to do so. The CDC will work with local governments to develop a "revised policy framework" based on COVID-19 community levels, risk of new variants and national data, according to a statement released Thursday by the TSA.

As of March 3, more than 90% of the U.S. population is in a location with low or medium COVID-19 community levels, where public face-coverings are no longer recommended in indoor settings. Suffolk and Nassau counties are in regions with low community levels, according to the CDC.

The seven-day average positivity rate on Long Island was 1.52% on Wednesday, but other areas around the country are not as low.

Dr. David Battinelli, physician-in-chief at Northwell Health, believes that COVID-19 positivity rates should be at 1% nationally before masks can come off on public transportation.

"I think it’s extremely prudent to keep it another month," Battinelli said of the mandate.

He added that on mass transit, "You run the risk of bringing people from Community A, where the rate is very high, into Community B."

Gerard Bringmann, chairman of the Long Island Rail Road Commuter Council, said the guidelines could be confusing, especially on a system where he believes roughly 10% to 15 % of riders were not complying with the mask mandate.

"It could create problems. Some people just refuse to do it," said Bringmann, who has gotten complaints from riders about the lack of enforcement. "The conductors aren’t going to get involved. They have had problems in the past; there’s been assaults. Mask enforcement is virtually nonexistent. There is only a limited number of MTA Police to enforce it, so it’s not getting done."

While Bringmann was looking forward to not having to wear a mask on the train, he added: "I’m sure they’re taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach."

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration signed a stricter legal enforcement policy against unruly passengers after a spike in disruptive behavior, many of which were linked to face coverings. So far this year, there were 814 reports of unruly passengers, and 535 were related to mask compliance.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants, said in a statement that they will continue to manage all safety measures and are "encouraged" by the next steps the CDC is taking.

"Like all Americans, flight attendants look forward to the time when masks are no longer required for confidence in the safety of air travel," the union said in a statement.

"We have to look not only at the science with regard to transmission in masks, but also the epidemiology and the frequency that we may encounter a variant of concern or a variant of interest in our travel corridors," CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on March 2, explaining why the agency was delaying removing the requirement for transit, but allowed people to gather maskless in movie theaters and sports arenas.

With AP

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