The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, no longer restricted by the Trump administration, issued an extensive federal public health order late Friday requiring all individuals to wear masks over their mouth and nose on nearly all forms of public transportation and private ride-sharing services—and makes refusal to wear a face-covering a violation of federal law.
The order, which takes effect on Tuesday, February 2, 2021, requires a mask to be worn by all travelers on planes, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.
Face coverings are also required at transportation hubs such as airports, bus terminals, train stations, and subway stations.
The mandate offers a few exceptions, allowing individuals to lower masks “while eating, drinking, or taking medication, for brief periods,” and for communicating with a person who is hearing impaired.
The order will be enforced by the Transportation Security Administration and federal, state, and local agencies.
While the CDC reserves the right to “enforce through criminal penalties,” civil penalties, such as fines, are far more likely.
“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 CDC wrote Friday, January 29, 2021.
Last September, the CDC drafted a similar order requiring all passengers and employees to wear masks on all forms of public and commercial transportation, but it was blocked by the Trump administration. As a result, the CDC was limited to only issuing strong recommendations for mask use. Trump, who often questioned the effectiveness of face coverings in preventing the spread of Covid-19 and frequently mocked Biden for wearing a mask, also reportedly rejected efforts by Congress to mandate mask use. President Biden issued an executive order on his second day in office directing federal agencies to “immediately take action” on the issue. While airline companies and most other modes of public transportation already require masks, the CDC order is significant because it will make not wearing a mask a violation of federal law. This distinction will likely make enforcing mask-wearing far easier for flight attendants and other transportation employees.
As of this week, all travelers flying into the U.S. are required to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test, taken no more than three days before their flight, or they will be denied boarding. On Tuesday, a senior CDC official said that the Biden administration is “actively looking” at requiring COVID-19 tests before domestic flights. “These are conversations that are ongoing,” CDC Director for the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine Marty Cetron told reporters, “and looking at what the types and locations of testing might be.”
As of Saturday morning, more than 25.9 million people in the U.S. have been infected with the coronavirus, according to a New York Times database, resulting in 436,780 deaths.