US President Joe Biden’s administration will extend requirements for travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains and buses and at airports and train stations through mid-March, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.
A formal announcement extending the requirements through March 18 is expected on Thursday, the sources said. The White House and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) declined to comment. The TSA in August extended the transportation mask order through January 18.
The report comes amid concerns in the US, and around the world, over the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the United States reported its first identified case of the Omicron variant.
“This is the first case of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant detected in the United States,” top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said at the White House, adding the person was a fully vaccinated traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22 and tested positive on November 29.
On Monday, the United States barred most foreign nationals who have been in eight southern African countries. The CDC told airlines late on Tuesday it would require them to turn over passenger contact information for all travelers who have been in those countries - and will forward that to state and public health agencies.
Biden said on Monday that the newly discovered Omicron variant “is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”
“We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we're learning more every single day. And we'll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed, not chaos and confusion. We have more tools today to fight the variant than we've ever had before,” he added.
Later on Monday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new guidance recommending booster shots for all vaccinated people 18 and older.
The guidance, which previously said adults “may” get boosters, now says they “should” get a third dose of the Moderna or Pfizer shot six months after their second dose. The same recommendation applies to those who received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine but after only two months.