The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has come out against lifting the federal mask mandate that requires travelers to don face coverings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus when using transportation modes including air, rail, and bus.
“The truth is that the unvaccinated portion that’s out there is extremely vulnerable,” Marty Cetron, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s division of global migration and quarantine, told Reuters on Thursday.
President Joe Biden first directed agencies to create mask mandates for transportation in January and CDC soon followed up with an order that codified mask mandates on commercial and public transportation into federal law.
The Transportation Security Administration, tasked with protecting the nation’s transportation networks, complemented CDC’s order with its own mandate that covers airports and commercial aircraft, as well as surface transportation networks. Before then, mask mandates were solely a matter of airline policy, and the first airline to require masks for passengers, JetBlue Airways, didn’t do so until late April.
TSA’s mandate took effect on February 2 and has already been extended past its original expiration date of May 11. September 13 is the new scheduled end date but the order can be extended again if the federal government deems it necessary, and Cetron’s comments hint that it might be.
“I get we’re all just over this emotionally but I do think we will succeed together if we realize the virus is the enemy and it’s not your fellow citizen or the person sitting next to you on a plane or a piece of cloth that you have to wear over your face,” Cetron told Reuters, adding that federal agencies are expected to follow CDC’s lead on this issue.
“It is currently unknown as to whether the mask mandate will be extended or kept in place,” Lisa Farbstein, TSA’s spokesperson, told Insider. “What we do know is that the mandate is currently in place until September 13. That gets us through the traditional summer travel season, just past the Labor Day holiday.”
Defiance to the mask mandate has heightened tensions onboard commercial flights as flight crews have been enforcing the policy. Passengers have hurled verbal abuse at flight attendants and interactions have even turned violent, as Insider’s Allana Akhtar reported.
“I’m sure there are some executives and many employees who personally wish the mask mandate would end today, were it not for the threat of the delta variant of the virus, simply to reduce the tensions that exist on aircraft,” Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and cofounder of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider.
Sarah said she enjoyed the decreased stress that came while working over the pandemic, servicing emptier planes when people felt less safe flying. She added boarding back-to-front and assisting fewer passengers with their luggage made her job more efficient.
But more than a year after the pandemic, Sarah, who, like many of the other flight attendants interviewed, requested to remain anonymous to speak without fear of retaliation, said she is excited for the perks of her job – like visiting new destinations during layovers – that got put on hold.
“We want travel to come back, flight attendants probably the most,” she told Insider. “We miss traveling on our off days and we want travel to be safe for everyone.”
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Though the pandemic has changed how we fly, some flight attendants are ‘cautiously optimistic’ about travel’s return
A San Francisco-based flight attendant said the job lost some of its “glamour” during the pandemic, as crew members couldn’t visit beaches and other attractions due to quarantine mandates across many US states. The flight attendant recalled packing her lunch in mid-2020 for flights because airports had closed many restaurants.
“I just had back-to-back layovers in Hawaii and, you know, crew members are not exempt from quarantine,” the flight attendant said. “In the old days, I would have been laying out my bikini, so it’s definitely a little less glamorous now that’s for sure.”
The San Francisco-based flight attendant said the job had become lonelier during the pandemic because she and other crew members could not go out for happy hours due to COVID restrictions. Some protocols have left flight attendants feeling lonelier aboard planes, too.
“I miss so much being able to smile at my passengers,” she said. “I do smile now, but you know, you can’t see it. I hope that my passengers can feel it, but I do miss being able to actually give them a real smile.”
Jenn Ayala, a flight attendant based in New Jersey, told Insider that she also feels like wearing masks had made communicating with passengers more difficult, and took a hit on the customer service part of the job.
Policing passengers over mask policies had made passengers more aggressive during the pandemic, flight attendants recently told Insider. The Federal Aviation Administration said it received 2,500 reports of unruly behavior by passengers since January 2021. About 1,900 of the reports deal with passengers who refused to comply with the federal facemask mandate.
Per the CDC, Americans – both vaccinated and unvaccinated – still must wear masks in airports and on transportation. But airlines like United and Delta are taking harder approaches to COVID-19 safety than other private firms by requiring new flight attendants get vaccinated.
Anthony Fauci said he predicts all airlines and cruise ships will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination before getting on board.
Sarah said she feels safe flying because she knows vaccines are safe and airlines continuously filter air in the cabin.
Though she said passengers who don’t want to wear masks have been “challenging” to deal with, Sarah said she’s seeing less nervous passengers and people boarding the plane wearing hazmat suits the last few weeks – a sign that Americans are thankful to be in the air after being “cooped up” at home.
“As of right now, I’m cautiously optimistic for the future of airline travel,” Sarah said. “I’m really proud of how US airlines have handled flying during the pandemic and keeping everyone safe.”
Other flight attendants said more travel means more job stability.
One Los Angeles-based flight said another benefit for the uptick in travel is decreased fear of furloughs and layoffs.
American and United began furloughing workers on September 30 after projecting the two would layoff a combined 32,000 workers. Globally, airlines may have cut nearly 5 million jobs if travel did not rebound after COVID-19, according to an analysis by the Air Transport Action Group.
But one year later, American, Delta, United, and Southwest all announced they will hire pilots and other positions before the end of 2021. The Association of Flight Attendants union expects the number of flight attendant jobs to climb from 80,000 in June to 100,000 by 2023, Insider’s Kate Duffy reported.
“The more flying we have, the better it is for both passengers and crew members,” the LA-based flight attendant said. “I hope everything stays and we don’t have any setbacks going forward.”
One Chicago-based flight attendant told Insider she got laid off for four months during the winter, and came back on board in March. She said the state of the industry had been in such a flux that she didn’t know whether to wait until she got called back or to find another job.
She said she’s ready for airline travel to go “back to normal,” and she’s happy to see flights full again.
“I really love my job,” the flight attendant said. “I didn’t realize how much I would miss interacting with people until I was furloughed and quarantined. The furlough made me appreciate my job more.”
Those new guidelines stated that people who are vaccinated are able to go maskless in most settings, including indoor gatherings among other maskless people.
Yet the same poll found that most vaccinated Americans are keeping their masks on: 90% of fully vaccinated people said that they had worn a mask in the last seven days.
Notably, the question lacked specificity as to how those vaccinated people were masking.
While some national chains like Walmart, Starbucks, and Best Buy are allowing vaccinated customers to go maskless, many private businesses are still requiring all customers to wear a mask. And hospitals, public transportation, and airlines are all still asking everyone to wear a mask, vaccinated or not.
About 61% of the eligible American population has received at least one dose of the available COVID vaccines, according to the CDC, and President Biden has set a goal to hit 70% by July 4.
The poll results highlight a stark contrast between people who don’t plan to get vaccinated and those who either plan to get vaccinated, are partially vaccinated, or already are fully vaccinated: Less than half of the former group has used a mask in the last seven days, while 80 to 90% of the latter group have.
Masking quickly became a political issue, with far-right politicians like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene most recently comparing mask mandates to the Holocaust.
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The trade association for the retail industry also said that the guidance puts retailers and their staff in “incredibly difficult situations,” because the national policy can still be overruled by local and state mask mandates.
“While we all share the desire to return to a mask-free normal, today’s CDC guidance is confusing and fails to consider how it will impact essential workers who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks,” Marc Perrone, UFCW’s president, said Thursday.
This comes as more and more frontline workers are reporting being harassed by customers over their attempts to enforce COVID-19 protocols, including mask mandates.
“Essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures,” Perrone said. “Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?”
UFCW said that there had been an almost 35% increase in grocery worker deaths since March 1, alongside a nearly 30% jump in grocery workers infected with or exposed to COVID-19 following supermarket outbreaks.
The union estimated that, since the start of the pandemic, around 462 of its members who were frontline workers had died from COVID-19, including 184 grocery workers and 132 meatpacking workers.
The Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), meanwhile, said that retailers were reviewing whether to change their current safety protocols in light of the new guidance, but that there was confusion between local and national rules.
“Today’s CDC announcement on masks creates ambiguity for retailers because it fails to fully align with state and local orders,” said Lisa LaBruno, RILA’s senior executive vice-president of retail operations and innovation.
“These conflicting positions [between national, state, and local guidance] put retailers and their employees in incredibly difficult situations,” she said.
In revised guidance issued Friday, US public health officials acknowledged for the first time that the coronavirus can be spread through inhalation of respiratory droplets containing the virus.
Prior to Friday, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not specify the virus is airborne, the New York Times reported.
The updated guidance acknowledges that one of the ways people can get infected with the virus is by breathing in affected particles.
“COVID-19 spreads when an infected person breathes out droplets and very small particles that contain the virus,” the updated guidance reads. “These droplets and particles can be breathed in by other people or land on their eyes, noses, or mouth.”
The CDC also suggested that six feet of distance between people is not enough to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Rather, people who stay six feet apart are less likely to catch the virus compared to people who are closer together.
Previously, CDC guidance only stated that most infections got transmitted through “close contact, not airborne transmission,” the Times reported.
“C.D.C. has now caught up to the latest scientific evidence, and they’ve gotten rid of some old problematic terms and thinking about how transmission occurs,” Virginia Tech aerosol expert Linsey Marr told the Times.
For months, beginning last year, infectious disease expects have warned health agencies like the CDC and the World Health Organization that there’s strong evidence the virus is airborne.
To decrease the potential spread of the coronavirus, the CDC advises people receive a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as its available to them and “avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces,” among other suggestions.
The coronavirus has infected more than 32 million people in the United States in the last 15 months, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. More than 580,000 Americans have died.
Millions of Americans are opting out of receiving their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The New York Times reports that nearly 8% of the people who’ve so far received their first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines have missed their follow-up appointments to receive the second dose.
So far, more than 26% of the US population has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University. That figure represents about 85 million people.
There are several reasons a growing number of Americans are choosing not to receive the second dose, the Times reported. Some has said they don’t want to experience any potential side effects while others feel like one dose should be enough protection against the virus.
Then, the CDC recommended vaccine providers prioritize people over the age of 75 and give them coronavirus vaccines. Some states like New York now allow all people 16 years or older to schedule and receive a vaccine.
Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases specialist, said he predicts all kids will be able to receive a vaccine against the coronavirus by the beginning of 2022, marking another milestone in vaccine rollout.
In order to be fully vaccinated, individuals must receive two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. Both have high efficacy rates, according to CDC data. CDC officials say getting both doses of either vaccine makes people up to 90% less likely to catch the virus.
Nearly 32 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic last year, JHU data show. Of that, more than 571,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating the death of an Oregon woman who developed a rare, but serious blood clot within two weeks of receiving Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) announced Thursday.
The pause followed six reports of central venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a rare blood clot that forms in the brain, among women ages 18 and 48 who had received J&J’s shot. The women developed the clots within two weeks of being vaccinated. They also reported low levels of platelets – colorless blood cells that help clots form.
In the statement, the OHA said the Oregon woman had the same combination of CVST and low platelets.
Dr. Shimi Sharief, senior health advisor with the OHA, told reporters that the woman’s symptoms were consistent with that of the other rare blood clot cases. Symptoms for this type of clot include severe and unusual headache, shortness of breath, stroke-like symptoms, abdominal pain, and small microbleeds.
Sharief emphasized that the possible adverse effect is very rare.
The CDC is still investigating whether CVST cases are related to the J&J vaccine. On Friday, an independent advisory panel for the CDC will vote on whether to end the pause on the shot – 10 days after the recommendation was issued.
The death of the Oregon woman will be discussed at that meeting.
She is the second death associated with rare blood clots following the J&J vaccine: A 45-year-old woman in Virginia also died after receiving the shot in March.
More than 8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the US. Sharief said that, to her knowledge, Oregon health authorities are not investigating any other cases in the state.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
The US Transport Security Administration (TSA) said Sunday it has screened more than 1 million passengers at US airports every day since March 11. It screened around 13 million passengers over the 10-day period, it said.
Though travel is allowed, current CDC guidance says people should “delay travel and stay home to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, even if you are vaccinated.”
For the first time during the pandemic, air travel is higher than it was at the same time a year ago. On Saturday, the most recent day data is available for, the TSA screened nearly 1.37 million passengers – more than double the number it screened on the same day in 2020.
US air travel peaked on Friday, when the TSA screened close to 1.47 million passengers, the most in more than a year.
If people have to travel, the CDC urges them to get tested both before and after flying, and quarantine at their destination, even if they test negative. Passengers must wear face masks on all flights, following an executive order from Biden, with few exemptions, and the CDC says they should get a COVID-19 vaccine, if possible.
All international arrivals are required to have a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before they board a flight to the US.
“The move is undoubtedly costing the country’s second-largest airline millions in lost revenue over spring break but helps solidify Delta’s image as a safety-minded airline long after the pandemic ends, which may help it attract more travelers in the long run,” Insider’s Thomas Pallini reported.
But those planning a post-vaccination vacation might still want to hold off as the public health agency has not revised its stance on non-essential travel, even after receiving the full course of a vaccine.
“Travel increases your chance of spreading and getting COVID-19,” the agency advises. “CDC recommends that you do not travel at this time.”
If travel is unavoidable or individuals choose to travel against public health recommendations, the CDC does have some advice on how to do it safely.
“If you are traveling, get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before your trip,” the CDC says. “Make sure you have the results of your negative test before you travel.”
Traveling while positive can put countless individuals at risk if they are exposed. Healthcare may also be difficult to find while traveling, especially if traveling internationally.
Those planning to travel after receiving the vaccine should also wait at least two weeks after receiving the final dose to ensure the body has had time to build protections against COVID-19, according to the CDC.
Even vaccinated travelers should still maintain social distancing, wear a face covering, and plan ahead to avoid potential exposure. The CDC recommends travelers be mindful about their travel plans to avoid exposure as even taking public transportation while traveling can increase the chances of contracting COVID-19.
Vaccinated individuals are also not exempt from the CDC’s new testing requirement for US-bound international flights.
All international arrivals, even US citizens, are required to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within three calendar days of departure of the first flight of a US-bound itinerary. If a traveler is flying from Tel Aviv, Israel to New York via London, UK, for example, the test would need to be taken no more than three calendar days before the Tel Aviv to London flight.
Individuals that had recently recovered COVID-19, however, can show proof of a positive test from the prior three months and a letter from a “healthcare provider or a public health official” approving travel.
The CDC also recommends getting tested between three to five days after travel and quarantining regardless of the result. Travelers should quarantine for seven days following travel if they get tested and for 10 days if they do not get tested.
Individual states across the country are beginning to relax travel restrictions and giving travelers more options to avoid quarantine as vaccinations increase.
Non-vaccinated arrivals or those that hadn’t recently contracted COVID-19 can test-out of quarantine only if they have a negative result from a test taken within three days of departure and receive a second negative test at least four days into their isolation.
Connecticut is also scaling back its travel guidelines, changing its requirements to mere recommendations for inbound visitors and residents. The state formerly required a 10-day quarantine for travelers arriving from most US states and all foreign countries but did allow test-out options.
Vaccination does not fully protect from contracting COVID-19 and those that experience symptoms after travel should still take precautions including self-quarantine and regular testing, the CDC says.
Air travel is on the rise compared to 2020 with more than one million passengers departing from US airports regularly since late-February, according to Transportation Security Administration data. Airlines are accelerated vaccine rollout hoping the will help salvage the summer season, a normally busy season for travel.
But with President Joe Biden announcing that access to vaccines will be greatly expanded in the upcoming months, some are viewing that as a sign to travel again.
Recent travel data from Hopper reveals that domestic flight searches increased by 58% from January 1 to March 1. Searches for summer flights also increased by almost 50% in the last two weeks of February, indicating the public’s desire to travel.
Despite the CDC’s warnings, summer 2021 may be the summer of travel.