TAMPA BAY, FL — The White House announced an extension of its transportation mask order for all travelers on airplanes, trains and buses following reports that the first cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus have been detected in the U.S.
Travelers, guests and employees must wear face masks on all public transportation and in airports and mass transit terminals through March 18.
That requirement had been due to expire in mid-January.
The extended mask order was one of a number of new actions the Biden administration put Thursday forward to combat COVID-19 following the emergence of the new variant omicron.
The White House also announced more stringent testing requirements for international travelers entering the U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the first case of the new variant that was identified in South Africa was found Wednesday in San Francisco. The person with the omicron variant had returned from South Africa on Nov. 22.
On Nov. 26, the World Health Organization named the new variant “omicron” and classified it as a concern.
Since Wednesday, another 10 cases have been confirmed in California, Nebraska, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Colorado, New York, Missouri and Hawaii. Only one of the patients has required hospitalization, according to the CDC. No cases were reported in Florida as of Friday.
The U.S. is among 38 countries with confirmed cases of the omicron variant, said WHO.
Transportation Security Administration Administrator David Pekoske said he agreed with President Joe Biden’s decision to extend the mask requirements, particularly at airports which have reopened to international travelers.
“Following the president’s order and announcement regarding efforts to combat the omicron variant, the TSA, in conjunction with the CDC, will extend the face mask requirement for individuals across all transportation networks throughout the United States, including at airports, onboard commercial aircraft, on over-the-road buses, and on commuter bus and rail systems through March 18,” Pekoske said in a statement, adding the masks and vaccination are still the best defense against the virus.