The United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is extending its COVID-19 face mask mandate by one month, meaning travelers will be required to wear masks on all forms of public transportation through April 18, 2022. What does this mean for cruise travelers in the next month?
Emergency Mask Mandate Extended
The TSA’s emergency mandate was first enacted in January 2021, following President Biden’s Executive Order to “Promote COVID-19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel” signed on January 21, 2021.
The mandate has already been extended several times in the past year, but was due to expire on March 18, 2022. It will be extended for one more month, through April 18.
This means face masks will continue to be required on all public transportation, including planes, trains, busses, and in public areas associated with that transportation, such as airports, train stations, and bus terminals.
This measure was meant to limit transmission of COVID-19, particularly in areas where many people may be congregating for long periods of time, as is often the case when traveling – including when taking a cruise.
Mask Mandates in Cruise Terminals
While largely associated with air travel, the mandate has also required travelers to wear face masks in cruise ship terminals during embarkation and debarkation processes. During boarding and debarking, passengers pass through TSA screening checkpoints and other security procedures, putting cruise terminals under the jurisdiction of the TSA.
All cruise lines operating from U.S. ports are required to comply with this mandate, though only while passengers are moving through the terminal. Once on board a cruise ship, the cruise line’s policies dictate whether or not masks must be worn.
As cruise lines have opted in to the voluntary guidelines for operating in U.S. waters from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they have been able to relax mask mandates onboard ships as per updated guidance and protocols according to vaccination levels while sailing.
New Guidelines Coming
This mandate extension does come with possible relief, however. According to an administration official on Fox News, “During [the next month], CDC will work with government agencies to help inform a revised policy framework for when, and under what circumstances, masks should be required in the public transportation corridor.”
Just as the CDC developed new guidelines for cruise ship operations, new guidance for public transportation may mean a relaxation of mask wearing in cruise terminals could be on the way.
“This revised framework will be based on the COVID-19 community levels, risk of new variants, national data, and the latest science. We will communicate any updates publicly if and/or when they change,” the official said.
It is possible the new guidelines could be released earlier, and mask mandates in cruise terminals relaxed before April 18 if pandemic conditions continue to improve.
In recent weeks, COVID-19 restrictions and mandates have been relaxed in many areas throughout the United States, including in schools, businesses, and workplaces. This is due to continually falling positivity rates of the disease, as well as updated CDC guidelines.
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While these are encouraging steps, it is possible that mandates could be reinstated if a new variant of the disease emerges and prolongs the public emergency of the pandemic. For now, cruise travelers will need to continue wearing masks in terminals, as well as follow other health and safety protocols enacted by the cruise lines they sail with.
All travelers should stay updated on current protocols and be prepared for changes in requirements if necessary before or during their cruise vacation.