CDC mandates masks for planes and other public transportation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a sweeping order late Friday that mandates the use of masks on airplanes and other public transportation as the U.S. seeks to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The order, which goes into effect Monday night just before midnight, mandates the use of face coverings at places such as bus terminals, airports, train stations and subway stops as well as in taxis and while using ride-hailing services.

“People must wear masks that cover both the mouth and nose when awaiting, boarding, traveling on, or disembarking public conveyances. People must also wear masks when entering or on the premises of a transportation hub in the United States,” the CDC said in its announcement.

The CDC said that masks can be reusable or disposable and can be homemade, but they must meet certain requirements to deter transmission of the coronavirus. Items such as bandanas and face shields worn without an underlying mask do not meet the requirement. 

The mandate offers few exceptions, including “while eating, drinking, or taking medication, for brief periods.”

Masks have already been required for most forms of transportation, though in many cases, they were required by individual companies such as airlines.

The CDC order makes failure to wear a mask during travel a violation of federal law, which companies will likely cite to further enforce mask requirements, and underscores that travel operators such as airline employees can bar individuals who refuse to wear a face covering. Airlines have said that many customers have been denied service over the issue since last year.

President Biden issued an executive order Jan. 21 directing federal agencies to “immediately take action” to mandate the use of masks in airports, trains, intercity bus services and public maritime vessels such as ferries.

The move comes after the White House under former President Trump reportedly blocked the CDC from issuing a rule requiring passengers and employees to wear face coverings on public and commercial transportation.

“Scientific evidence shows that consistent and universal use of masks on public transportation systems and in transportation hubs will protect Americans and help to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” the agency wrote Friday in explaining why it was ordering masks now.

The order comes as the U.S. continues to see thousands of new cases of the coronavirus each day. The seven-day average of new daily cases on Friday was 152,262, with more than 100,000 hospitalized due to COVID-19, according to data from The COVID Tracking Project. Daily deaths from the disease remain above 3,000 per day.

Tags CDC guidance coronavirus pandemic COVID-19 Donald Trump face mask mandate Public transportation

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