The current federal requirement that Americans wear masks on public transportation will remain in effect until at least early next year, the Transportation Security Administration announced on Tuesday.
"TSA will extend the directives through January 18, 2022," the agency said in a statement to CBS News. "The purpose of TSA's mask directive is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation."
The announcement comes as the highly transmissible Delta variant continues to spread across the country, prompting schools, local governments and entertainment and sports venues begin to reintroduce mask requirements.
"Extending the federal mask mandate for travel makes sense for the current health environment and has the travel industry's full support," U.S. Travel Association executive vice president of public affairs and policy Tori Emerson Barnes said. "The universal wearing of masks in airports and on airplanes, trains and other forms of public transportation is both an effective safeguard against spreading the virus and boosts public confidence in traveling — both of which are paramount for a sustained economic recovery."
Over the summer, travel neared pre-pandemic levels. Between July 30 to August 1, the TSA said it screened approximately 6.4 million travelers, up from the 2.3 million screened during the same time period in 2020.
However, a recent survey shows people are once again growing more hesitant to travel — 27% of respondents said they postponed a trip and more than 54% said the Delta variant has made them less interested in traveling right now. Still, 26% of respondents say they plan to travel in October.
Although wearing a face mask has proved an effective way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the federal mask mandate has led to thousands of incidents of unruly behavior over the course of the pandemic. In June, the Federal Aviation Administration said approximately 2,350 of the more than 3,100 reports of unruly behavior involved passengers refusing to comply with the mandate.
TSA employees were physically assaulted in more than 69 incidents between March 2020 and June 2021, and the agency has initiated more than 1,700 compliance investigations since the mask mandate went into effect.