Jan 30, 2021 - Health

CDC orders mask mandate for planes and public transportation

Picture of people inside the LAX airport wearing masks while standing in line
Photo: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a public health order late Friday requiring face coverings on airplanes, trains and other public transportation to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Details: The order will go into effect on Monday at 11:59 p.m. and extends beyond the previous guidance announced by the White House.

  • The CDC said masks may be reusable or disposable and face shields on their own are insufficient.
  • Children ages 2 years and younger, private conveyances operated for personal use, commercial vehicles or trucks without passengers and military transportation are exempt from the order. Exemptions also extend to people with disabilities.
  • Masks can be removed "for a brief period" while eating, drinking, taking medication, going through security screenings or when requested by law enforcement.
  • The order says it "does not intend to rely primarily on these criminal penalties but instead strongly encourages and anticipates widespread voluntary compliance."

The big picture: The Trump administration previously blocked the CDC from issuing a mask mandate on public transportation, per The New York Times.

  • President Biden signed an executive order instructing the departments of Transportation, Labor, Homeland Security and other agencies on Jan. 21 “to require masks to be worn in compliance with CDC guidelines,” including on certain forms of public transportation.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it is “committed to ensuring commercial airline passengers comply with President Biden’s face mask mandate throughout their journey from curb-to-curb," the Washington Post reports.
  • Biden also signed an order mandating face coverings and social distancing on all federal property, though details on how that will be implemented remain unclear.

What they're saying: "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 order says.

  • "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 said Friday.
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