The vast majority will now have no choice. Starting Tuesday, pretty much anyone who travels on any form of public transportation will have to wear a face mask, according to a sweeping order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Friday. The order, which takes effect at 11:59 p.m. on Monday requires travelers wear face masks while on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, ferries, buses, taxis, and any kind of ride-share vehicle. Passengers will have to wear the mask while “boarding disembarking, and for the duration of travel.”
The order specifies that the face mask must be worn properly and completely cover a traveler’s nose and mouth. It also specifies that face shields, scarves, and bandanas don’t count as proper face masks, which have to be “a solid piece of material without slits exhalation valves, or punctures.” Children under the age of two and people with disabilities who can’t safely wear masks are exempted from the order. And taking off the mask for brief periods to eat, drink, or take medication will also be permitted.
The CDC order came days after President Joe Biden on Jan. 21 called on government agencies to “immediately take action” to require masks in public transportation. The CDC tried to push a mask mandate in public transportation during Donald Trump’s administration but was blocked from doing so and instead only issued a recommendation that all travelers wear masks. “Requiring masks on our transportation systems will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel safely even during this pandemic,” reads the 11-page order signed by Martin S Cetron, director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. “Therefore, requiring masks will help us control this pandemic and aid in reopening America’s economy.”
Although airlines and most public transportation system already require masks, the CDC order means it will be easier to enforce the rules because those who refuse to wear one will be violating federal law. Although criminal penalties are possible, the CDC said it doesn’t “intend to rely primarily on these criminal penalties but instead strongly encourages and anticipates widespread voluntary compliance.”