U.S. plans to extend transport mask mandate through Jan. 18, sources say

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By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden's administration plans to extend requirements for travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains and buses and at airports and train stations through Jan. 18 to address ongoing COVID-19 risks, three sources told Reuters.

Major U.S. airlines were informed of the planned extension on a call with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday, the three people briefed on the matter said. A separate call with aviation unions is planned for Wednesday, a source said.

The current TSA transportation mask order runs through Sept 13.

TSA declined comment and CDC officials did not immediately comment. A spokeswoman for Airlines for America, a trade association representing American Airlines Co, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others, declined to comment.

The current CDC order, which has been in place since soon after Biden took office in January, requires the use of face masks on nearly all forms of public transportation.

It requires face masks to be worn by all travelers on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares and at transportation hubs such as airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations, and seaports.

The requirements have been the source of some friction, especially aboard U.S. airlines, where some travelers have refused to wear masks. The Federal Aviation Administration said on Tuesday that since Jan. 1 it has received reports from airlines of 2,867 passengers refusing to wear a mask.

A group of Republican lawmakers in July introduced legislation to prohibit mask mandates for public transport, and other Republicans want the CDC to exempt fully vaccinated Americans from the requirements.

The CDC mask order has no expiration date. The CDC in June made a minor tweak to its rules, saying it would no longer require travelers to wear masks in outdoor transit hubs and in outdoor spaces on ferries and buses.

Last month, the CDC official who signed the mask order, Marty Cetron, told Reuters the transit mask mandates have been effective.

"Masks are really powerful and we should make sure they're part of our arsenal," Cetron said. "The truth is that the unvaccinated portion that's out there is extremely vulnerable."

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Will Dunham and Sonya Hepinstall)

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