Group Says It Would Benefit Traveling Public If The Requirement Can Be Safely LiftedBy Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, including Amy Klobuchar, are requesting that federal health and transportation officials provide an update on mask requirements for fully vaccinated people traveling in planes, trains and buses.

On Tuesday, a letter was sent by the group to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Transportation Security Administration. In it, senators say they support measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but also note that the CDC’s guidance on face masks for fully vaccinated people has evolved.

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“The CDC’s guidance on face masks for fully vaccinated people has evolved as new data have become available and as more individuals are vaccinated. In May, the CDC announced new guidance that fully vaccinated individuals could resume activities without wearing a mask or staying six feet apart. At that time, the CDC said that it would continue to update its guidance for travel as the science emerges and that it would need to collaborate with other agencies as the face mask requirement is an interagency policy,” the senators wrote.

The senators continue by saying that they are requesting an update on the CDC’s and TSA’s process for updating the mask requirement for fully vaccinated people. They’re also seeking to understand what the science is showing about the transmission of COVID-19 for fully vaccinated people traveling.

“If the requirement for wearing masks while traveling can be safely lifted and would serve the public health interest, then we believe it would benefit the traveling public,” the letter said.

One sign people are flying again is that it’s suddenly hard to get an airport parking spot. But inside the terminal, mask regulations remain the same as at the height of the epidemic. For some, that’s confusing.

“Turn on the television and you have somebody who is an expert here saying one thing, you have someone here saying another thing,” air traveler Doug Dittbenner said. “So it would be good to have a very clear understanding of what the expectations are and the guidelines.”

“I think we need to make sure its safe for as long as possible until everybody is vaccinated there’s new strains coming around,” air traveler Elaine Page said.

The bipartisan group of Senators is also asking the CDC to clarify and make public any new information they have on the transmission of COVID-19 and the variants on public transportation.

“People are ready to travel and that is why we are asking these questions. I am not wedded to anything but the science; that is what we need to hear, and we haven’t gotten that update in quite a while,” Klobuchar said. “You would think these major airlines have data on this … and the CDC must have access to that, so let’s see what we can find out. Let’s then figure out what the next steps should be.”

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WCCO reached out to the CDC but did not hear back.

The senators are asking for answers by July 12. In addition to Klobuchar, the group also includes Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas).

Full text of the letter:

Dear Dr. Walensky and Administrator Pekoske:

We are writing regarding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) order and the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) security directive to require the wearing of masks by individuals on public transportation conveyances—such as airplanes, buses, and trains—or at transportation hubs to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. We support measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and end the pandemic as soon as possible, but we also support steps to safely lift restrictions when appropriate.

We understand that CDC and TSA issued and have maintained the mask requirement for travel for several reasons, including that public transportation conveyances and transportation hubs are locations where many people gather, physical distancing can be difficult, and the option to get off or move to another area is not always available. In addition, people may need to take public transportation for their livelihoods, and individuals working or traveling on transportation conveyances may be unvaccinated or at increased risk of severe illness.

The CDC’s guidance on face masks for fully vaccinated people has evolved as new data have become available and as more individuals are vaccinated. In May, the CDC announced new guidance that fully vaccinated individuals could resume activities without wearing a mask or staying six feet apart. At that time, the CDC said that it would continue to update its guidance for travel as the science emerges and that it would need to collaborate with other agencies as the face mask requirement is an interagency policy.

As there has not yet been any change in the requirement for masks while traveling, we request an update on the CDC’s and TSA’s process for updating the mask requirement for fully vaccinated individuals and what the science is showing about the transmission of COVID-19 for fully vaccinated individuals while traveling. Specifically, we request answers by no later than July 12, 2021, to the following questions:

1. What has the CDC learned about the transmission of COVID-19 on airplanes and other forms of transportation for fully vaccinated individuals?
2. What additional factors beyond how COVID-19 spreads, such as the impact on flight attendants or airline operations, are informing the mask requirement for travel?
3. Would removing the mask requirement for travel for fully vaccinated people encourage vaccination against COVID-19?
4. Would lifting the mask requirement for fully vaccinated travelers create administrability challenges?
5. What steps have the CDC, TSA, and other relevant federal agencies taken together to update the travel guidance and mask requirement?

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If the requirement for wearing masks while traveling can be safely lifted and would serve the public health interest, then we believe it would benefit the traveling public. We appreciate your prompt attention to this matter and hard work in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Esme Murphy