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U.S. Extends Mask Mandate on Planes and Shortens Testing Window for Border Arrivals | Frommer's Travnikov Studio/Shutterstock

U.S. Extends Mask Mandate on Planes and Shortens Testing Window for Border Arrivals

Passengers will need to continue masking up on U.S. planes, trains, and buses through at least March 18, 2022, the White House announced today. 

The country's mask mandate for public transportation, which also applies to airports, railway stations, and bus terminals, was set to expire in January, but Pres. Joe Biden extended the requirement as part of a larger plan to fight the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic amid the emergence of the new Omicron variant of the virus. 

Speaking at the National Institutes of Health one day after the first U.S. case of the Omicron variant was detected in California, Biden laid out a domestic Covid strategy for this winter focusing mostly on vaccination sites (particularly for families with children), booster shots, and at-home testing.

The travel-related portion of the plan includes two measures: the extension of the mask mandate on public transportation and a tightening of testing rules for people entering the United States from other countries. 

"All inbound international travelers [must] test within one day of departure globally, regardless of nationality or vaccination status," the White House says in its announcement. 

That's a reduction from the previous testing-window requirement of three days. As with the obsolete regulation, the new one-day testing rule applies to foreign visitors entering the U.S. as well as to U.S. citizens returning to the country from abroad.

The stricter testing rules for international travelers entering the U.S. follow an earlier decision from the Biden administration to restrict travel from eight nations in southern Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected during the week of Thanksgiving. The variant has since appeared in numerous countries around the world as scientists rush to understand it. 

For international travelers, pre-departure Covid test timing was already tricky.

With only a day to obtain the negative results that will ensure entry (or reentry) into the U.S., your best bet is probably to pay for testing from a lab affiliated with the airport you're departing from—many airports around the world now have testing facilities onsite or nearby. 

You'll almost certainly have to pay extra, but as Frommer's editor-in-chief Jason Cochran wrote in October, at least you'll know the result will "fall well within the necessary deadline—and because airport-based Covid testers specialize in travel, you'll also know it's the right type for your trip."

To help you find testing labs at airports and elsewhere in international locations, the U.S. Department of State has compiled a directory of helpful Covid-related information that you can search by country