An initial mandate was scheduled to expire on January 18. However, concerns about the omicron variant have led health officials to institute new rules governing mask use on public transportation, rail travel and airlines. Moving forward, the fines for people who fail to wear a mask at these locations will be doubled. The minimum fine will be $500, with repeat offenders facing fines of as much as $3000.
The White House also announced that all travelers to the United States will be required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within a day of boarding the flight. This will apply to all people, regardless of their vaccination status or their nationality. This marks a reduction from the current rule requiring vaccinated travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test result that was taken within three days of travel.
Although these rules are certainly stricter than the previous ones, it is worth noting that the U.S. decided to forego tighter restrictions, such as requiring people to get tested after arriving or forcing them to quarantine when they enter the country. Likewise, they declined to require domestic American travelers to have a vaccine or get tested because officials felt that such a requirement would lead to litigation, much like the legal battles against President Joe Biden's workplace mandates.
These rules are part of Biden’s winter plan for fighting the virus. Another component is a requirement for private insurers to pay for at-home COVID-19 tests, along with paid time off for federal employees getting their booster shots.
Airports in Florida have been reminding travelers of the mask requirement in hopes of avoiding confusion; Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s highly publicized anti-mask policy is not in effect in airports or bus or train terminals because these locations fall under federal jurisdiction. Violating mask orders from a flight crew is considered a federal offense that can result in a fine, an air travel ban, or jail time.
Airports such as Palm Beach International, Miami International and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International have been sending messages to remind passengers of the requirement and the fact that it is a federal mandate. Under the rules, the masks must remain over people’s mouths and noses at all times. They are permitted to pull their mask down to drink or eat, but they must replace it after each sip or bite.
Meanwhile, the Oregon Health Authority has moved to implement a permanent indoor mask mandate in the state. It is one of the few states that continues to have such a mandate as the pandemic rages on. The Medical Director for Communicable Diseases and Immunizations with the Oregon Health Authority, Dr. Paul Cieslak, said that the potential "permanent" indoor mask mandate is indefinite rather than forever because it can be repealed.
He explained: "Permanent means indefinite. It doesn’t necessarily mean permanent. We can repeal it as well, but we are only allowed to have a temporary rule for 180 days, and anything that goes beyond 180 days, we cannot extend it."
In Texas, a ban on mask mandates is back in place after a federal appeals court moved to restore an executive order by Governor Greg Abbott banning mask mandates in the state's schools. In the executive order issued in May, he prohibited governmental entities in Texas, such as counties, cities, public health authorities, government officials and school districts, from requiring mask wearing. Gov. Abbott has also banned vaccine mandates in the state.
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