President Joe Biden is expected to extend the federal mask mandate for airplane, train and bus passengers until mid-March amid the spread of COVID-19 and as concerns rise over the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, according to reports.
For nearly a year, the U.S. has required passengers using public transportation, as well as those at airports and train stations, among other hubs, to wear masks to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The mandate was set to expire on Jan. 18 after its most recent extension in August. The president initially put it into place shortly after he took office.
The president is expect to lay out a winter strategy to combat COVID-19 on Thursday as the world races to learn more about the omicron strain, which was first discovered in South Africa and Botswana. The variant has quickly spread around the globe and has already appeared in more than 20 nations.
The first U.S. case of the omicron variant was confirmed in California on Wednesday in a traveler who had recently returned from South Africa. The strain has troubled researchers due to it high number of mutations, although there is no evidence yet that they allow the virus to be more transmissible or able to evade currently available vaccines.
As part of that plan, Biden is expected to announce the mask mandate extension, Reuters first reported. The New York Times added that Biden is also expected to tighten COVID-19 testing rules for anyone entering the U.S. from another country. International travelers are expected to be required to show a negative coronavirus test within 24 hours of departure rather than the three days now in place.
All foreign travelers are already required to be fully vaccinated before entering the country. The new testing rules are expected to apply to both foreigners and U.S. citizens.
The White House has already imposed travel restrictions on anyone coming into the U.S. from eight southern African nations, including South Africa. Officials at the World Health Organization condemned the move, saying the region was being punished for its transparency, although White House officials have said the temporary ban would buy the U.S. time to craft a strategy to combat another wave of infections.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has urged Americans who have yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to do so. He also said those eligible for a booster should roll up their sleeves and get one.