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CDC Extends Transportation Mask Mandate to May
In a move that was widely anticipated, the CDC has announced an extension of the nationwide transportation mask order while they assess “the potential impact of the rise of cases on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and healthcare system capacity.”
The organization points to the spread of the Omicron variant, especially the “highly infectious” BA.2 subvariant that makes up more than 85% of U.S. cases as a driver in the decision. The organization said they would “continue to monitor the spread of the variant,” citing that since “early April, there have been increases in the 7-day moving average of cases in the U.S.”
The agency said “the TSA would extend the security directive and emergency amendment for 15 days to May 3, 2022.”
This extension means that travelers on public transport (including flights in U.S. airspace and all airports) will continue to be mandated to wear masks.
Not surprisingly, U.S. Travel, Airlines for America and other advocacy groups voiced disagreement with the extension.
U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes said in a statement, “Travelers and the travel industry need to hear firm plans to navigate the endemic environment in which the public and practically all other industries are now operating, particularly as the CDC no longer recommends masks for the overwhelming majority of the U.S. population.
“With all of the tools now available to mitigate the virus, it is time for the administration to set a clear end date for federal requirements on mask usage as well as pre-departure testing for air travelers to the U.S.”
In a letter to the CDC and the Health and Human Services Department reported by Associated Press, Nicholas Calio, CEO of Airlines for America, said: “It is very difficult to understand why masks are still required on airplanes, but not needed in crowded bars and restaurants; in packed sports arenas; in schools full of children; or at large indoor political gatherings.”
Many large cities like New York have lifted indoor mask mandates, although Philadelphia has just reinstated its mandate due to rising Covid-19 rates.
CNN reported the city’s Public Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said at a news conference: “Starting today, I’m asking all businesses and institutions in Philadelphia to dig up those old ‘masks required’ signs and start hanging them in your windows.”
It seems as if a weary public will continue seeing those signs in airports and on public transport for some time to come.
JetBlue Bids to Buy Spirit
After Frontier Airlines made a bid for Spirit Airlines this February, JetBlue followed up with a surprise bid for the airline on April 6, which Spirit deemed “likely a superior offer.”
There has been no indication that Frontier will fight for Spirit. JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes commented on Yahoo Finance Live that “A bigger JetBlue is profoundly good and better for competition than a Spirit and Frontier combination.”
Some industry analysts like Henry Harteveldt of Atmosphere Research Group believe the merger could be good for consumers. Harteveldt said in a statement to numerous media outlets, “I think if JetBlue is successful with Spirit, there’s lots of potential for JetBlue to expand its route network across the U.S. and perhaps internationally…[but] we’re a long way from that happening.”
The main question most consumers have is: Will an airline known for its customer service and amenities purchasing an airline known for its lack of service produce an improved or diminished airline?
Not all pundits think the result will be a win for consumers.
Consumer advocate Christopher Elliott wrote in USA Today, “A review of the last big airline merger suggests that…a combined JetBlue-Spirit would probably receive more complaints and deliver worse customer service for years to come.”
Jamaica Ends Mask Mandates
As the U.S. extends is travel mask mandate and Philadelphia reinstates indoor masking, Jamaica has announced that effective April 16, visitors to the island will no longer be required to present a PCR or Antigen test prior to arrival. Also, mask mandates in enclosed public spaces will end.
“Eliminating mask mandates and the need for travelers to present a negative Covid test result are important strides toward our continued gradual relaxation of travel protocols as the spread of Covid-19 keeps declining,” said Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism of Jamaica. “We are optimistic that these simpler requirements will serve to increase the appeal of Jamaica as a premier destination and keep us moving along the road to a stronger recovery for both the tourism sector and the nation’s economy as a whole.”
The CDC has downgraded Jamaica to a Level 1 designation in its latest Covid-19 travel advisory to citizens due to the country having low cases of the virus.
“As we review our Jamaica CARES program and travel protocols regularly, taking these actions was the logical next step to keep Jamaica aligned with best practices globally,” noted Donovan White, director of tourism for Jamaica Tourist Board. “Many destinations in the Caribbean region and around the world have been easing travel requirements, so this change will help us ensure that Jamaica retains its leadership position among the world’s top tourism destinations.”