The White House’s COVID-19 czar said Monday that extending the federal mask mandate for public transportation is “on the table” as the requirement is set to end on April 18.
Speaking on NBC’s “TODAY” show, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told host Savannah Guthrie that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was making a decision on whether to recommend continued mask-wearing on public transit and that the White House would be guided by those recommendations.
Guthrie asked whether Jha supported ending the mandate or extending it further.
“This is a decision that the CDC Director [Rochelle] Walensky is going to make,” said Jha. “I know the CDC is working to develop a scientific framework for how to answer that, we’re gonna see that framework come out I think in the next few days. And based on that, we’re gonna want to be guided by this decision. You know, throughout the entire pandemic, we’ve wanted to make decisions based on the evidence and science and that is what I expect we’ll do again this week.”
“Let me just ask you, Dr. Jha, does that mean that extending the mask mandate on public transportation is a live option, it’s on the table?” Guthrie cut in.
“Look, this is a CDC decision, and I think it is absolutely on the table, and Dr. Walensky is gonna make her decision based on the framework that the CDC scientists create, and we’ll make a decision collectively based on that.”
.@SavannahGuthrie spoke with White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. @ashishkjha about the rising COVID cases and mask mandates. pic.twitter.com/OZX62EaN3o
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) April 11, 2022
“Throughout the entire pandemic, we’ve wanted to make decisions based on the evidence and science,” Jha told Guthrie, adding, “and that is what I expect we’ll do again this week, once we have that.”
Jha’s comments come amid mounting pressure to end the mask mandate after the CDC previously extended the requirement on March 10. The Senate voted with a bipartisan majority, 57-40, to end the mandate in March. In addition, the CDC is facing several lawsuits challenging the mandate. A group of 17 Republican members of Congress, led by Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie and Senator Rand Paul, sued the CDC to end the mandate on March 15, claiming the agency lacked the legal authority to force people to wear masks on airplanes. Another group of 10 pilots from major commercial airlines filed a similar lawsuit challenging the mask mandates on March 21, citing conflicts with state and local laws, medical concerns, and the uptick in instances of unruly passengers. Most recently, a group of 21 states sued the Biden administration, citing conflicts between the mask mandate and state laws.
At the same time, the CEOs of 10 of America’s largest airlines sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to “sunset” the mask mandate and the international pre-departure test mandate.