White House, Congress drop mask mandates while travelers still required to cover up

Hemmer presses Psaki on changing mask guidance for the White House: ‘What changed?’

Bill Hemmer and Dana Perino speak with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki about the shift in mask guidance and what Biden could discuss in his State of the Union address.

U.S. travelers are still required by federal law to mask up on planes and trains, even after the White House and Congress dropped their mask mandates this week ahead of President Biden’s State of the Union address.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moved Friday to loosen federal mask-wearing guidance for counties deemed to be at “low” or “medium” risk, including in schools. The action came after most states and cities around the country lifted their indoor mask mandates and proof of vaccination requirements amid a significant drop in new COVID-19 cases and deaths.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a media briefing last Friday that the update was intended for communities only, and that “nothing will change in our travel corridors” in the near future.

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    Passengers check in at the Spirit Airlines counter at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Feb. 7, 2022, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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    President Biden arrives at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport Feb. 17, 2022, in Cleveland, Ohio.  (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Soon after the announcement, the White House and Congress dropped their mask mandates. 

Passengers on public transportation, however, are still required by federal law to mask up. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) extended its mask mandate for the third time in August of last year, and it is set to expire on March 18. 

A TSA spokesperson would not say whether the agency plans to extend the deadline again or let it expire without further action.

(Fox News Digital)

The CDC told Fox News Digital in a statement that it will “continue to assess the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 during travel and—as needed—we will make updates to our recommendations based on science and our understanding of the current situation.”

The White House did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request for comment.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was pressed on “America’s Newsroom” Tuesday about the timing of the White House dropping its mask mandate less than 24 hours ahead of Biden’s historic speech, amid criticism that it was done for political reasons.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks at a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. 
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

“What changed in the science yesterday, Monday, as opposed to a week ago Monday?” asked host Bill Hemmer. 

“It wasn’t actually yesterday, Bill,” Psaki responded. “What the CDC did is they put out guidance last Friday that identified recommendations depending on what the hospitalization rates are in your part of the country.”

Meanwhile, Texas has sued the Biden administration over its federal mask mandate on public transportation.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) mandate was unlawfully issued. It was not authorized by Congress, and the CDC did not put the mandate up for notice and comment, which is ordinarily required for regulations like this,” a statement from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and its head legal counsel, Rob Henneke, and Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, reads. “Yet a person’s failure to comply with the Administration’s mask mandate carries criminal penalties.”

“Biden’s repeated disregard of the individual liberties of Texans is not only disrespectful to the U.S. Constitution, it is also troublesome that any president thinks they can act above the law while hardworking Americans standby,” the statement said. “President Biden cannot continue governing through executive edicts. Now is the time to strike down his administration’s air-travel mask mandate.”

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