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Catching a flight? You’ll still need a mask despite the CDC’s new guidance.

A Transportation Security Administration order enforcing the mandate expires on March 18, and it could be extended

Passengers wait to board a United Airlines flight to Hawaii at San Francisco International Airport. (Jeff Chiu/AP)
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A federal mask mandate for airline passengers and transit riders will stay in place for at least three more weeks, despite steps Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ease mask guidance in other settings across the country.

A Transportation Security Administration order enforcing the mandate expires on March 18, and it could be extended. The rules, imposed in the early days of the Biden administration, require mask-wearing across all forms of public transportation, including transit stations, on airplanes and at airports.

“The mask requirement remains in place and we will continue to assess the duration of the requirement in consultation with CDC,” TSA spokeswoman Alexa Lopez said Friday.

The CDC’s revised approach and decisions by local and state officials to drop mandates could leave transportation as one of the few remaining settings in which people are required to wear masks.

CDC changes criteria for areas with high levels of covid, easing mask recommendations for most Americans

The transportation mandate has fueled a rash of conflict on airplanes and in airports, with the Federal Aviation Administration logging record numbers of complaints about unruly passengers. The agency says the vast majority of reports have been mask-related.

The FAA has proposed more than $1 million in fines for badly behaved passengers and the TSA has issued another $400,000 in penalties.

The guidance the CDC issued Friday takes a new approach to measuring the risks that communities face from the virus, focused on the strain faced by medical systems. The shift means that only about 28 percent of the population lives in areas where the agency recommends universal mask-wearing, while previously almost everyone did.

The CDC also said it now only recommends masks in schools in communities with high levels of disease.

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