Travelers walk through Terminal 3 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, Friday, July 2, 2021. American Airlines says the July Fourth holiday weekend was a hit, with nearly three times as many people flying on the airline than did over the holiday weekend last year. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The federal Transportation Security Administration is weighing whether to extend the mask mandate for airports, commercial aircraft, buses and rail systems, which expires March 18.

The mandate designed to stem the spread of COVID-19 has been extended three times since it was put in place in February 2021.

“As per the mask mandate in the terminal building and airlines, it’s set to expire on March 18 unless it’s renewed,” Marv Esterly, director of aviation at Valley International Airport, told the airport board last week.

Esterly said local TSA officials gave no indication what course of action TSA officials in Washington would take on the mandate.

Esterly said American Association of Airport Executives representatives recently told him they “thought it was going to be extended.”

“But I think everybody’s guessing at this point,” he added. “On the 18th we’ll either be wearing a mask, or not wearing a mask.”

Whether the masks have been effective against the spread of COVID-19 among passengers on airlines, buses and trains isn’t particularly well-studied.

But for airlines at least, the mandatory masks have caused trouble.

The Federal Aviation Administration admits the mask mandate has contributed to a large number of onboard incidents among passengers and crew. Of 5,981 onboard disputes last year, 72 percent were related to masks, FAA data shows.

Last month Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed suit against the Biden administration seeking to rescind mask mandates for airports, airlines and all public transportation networks.

The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, contends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lacks authority to impose such a broad health mandate and that it violates the constitutional rights of Americans.

“(President) Biden’s repeated disregard of the individual liberties of Texans is not only disrespectful to the U.S. Constitution, it is also troublesome that any president thinks they can act above the law while hardworking Americans stand by,” Paxton said.  “President Biden cannot continue governing through executive edicts. Now is the time to strike down his administration’s air-travel mask mandate.”

A number of governors across the country, as well as businesses, have been loosening mask rules in recent weeks.

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