The federal travel mask mandate isn’t going away any time soon thanks to the emergence of omicron, the latest COVID-19 variant of concern.
President Joe Biden is set to announce Thursday an extension of the Transportation Security Administration’s mandate, which requires travelers to mask up on airplanes, trains, buses and in airports and train stations, through March 18. This will be the third extension since the mandate was first implemented on Feb. 1.
Travelers who refuse to wear masks may face fines ranging from a minimum $500 to $3,000 for repeat offenders, although the mandate does carve out exemptions for travelers under the age of 2 and people with certain disabilities.
The president’s plan will also require travelers entering the country by air to test negative for COVID within a day of departure, regardless of vaccination status or nationality, instead of within three days.
Carter Yang, spokesperson for airline industry trade group Airlines for America, said Wednesday U.S. airlines “are prepared to implement the forthcoming requirement that passengers be tested one day prior to departure.”
On Wednesday, California health officials detected the first case of the omicron variant within U.S. borders.
The mask mandate extension would be yet another way the Biden administration is working to curb the spread of COVID-19 through updated travel restrictions. The U.S. began restricting travel from eight African countries on Monday, and the Centers for Disease Control said Tuesday that it would tighten its testing requirements for international travelers flying into the U.S.
President Joe Biden is expected to discuss how the administration will combat COVID-19 and the omicron variant later Thursday.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz.