Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas announced that the mask mandate on flights and in airports will be in place through at least mid-September.
“It’s a very important mandate,” Mayorkas told “Good Morning America” on Friday.
“We are getting out of the COVID-19 pandemic because of a concerted federal effort and we need to stay strong and really put this behind us.”
Passengers under the age of two and people who can’t safely wear masks because of a disability are exempt from the requirement, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
Anyone who refuses to wear a mask could face a $250 to $1,500 fine, but TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein told Forbes that the agency is focused on voluntary compliance.
An October study from United Airlines and the Department of Defense found that the risk of catching COVID-19 on an airplane is “virtually nonexistent” if passengers are wearing masks.
The study used mannequins to simulate a packed flight and found that a passenger would need to sit next to an infected person for 54 hours before being exposed to enough virus particles to become infected himself.
Mayorkas also addressed an increase in violence against flight attendants by people refusing to wear masks on flights, which he said is a “federal offense.”
“Those cases are going to be prosecuted. We will not tolerate that. We are going to stand behind the flight attendants who are there to serve the American public,” Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas addressed the mask mandate as 2.5 million Americans were expected to fly over Memorial Day weekend.
He also said the Biden administration is considering requiring Americans to have vaccination passports in order to travel into or out of the country.
“We’re taking a very close look at [requiring vaccine passports to travel internationally],” Mayorkas said.
“One of our principles that has guided us throughout this pandemic is the value of diversity, equity and inclusion and making sure that any passport that we provide for vaccinations is accessible to all and that no one is disenfranchised.”
Although the U.S. does not have any vaccination requirements for international travelers, anyone traveling into the country is required to produce a negative COVID-19 test, according to Forbes.
“There’s an underlying point here, of course, which is everyone should get vaccinated,” Mayorkas said. “It’s so important to get that vaccine, make one safe, make one’s loved ones and friends safe around you.”
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