CDC makes mask wearing mandatory on US public transportation

The CDC has ordered passengers on all modes of transport within the US to wear masks that cover the mouth and nose, or risk breaking federal law.

masks are now mandatory on new york's subway

What is already a fairly common sight in New York's Subway is now federal law

Masks have become mandatory on public transportation in the US this week as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an 11-page order last weekend.

Coming into effect on Monday, the order mandates that all passengers on “public transportation conveyance”, ie anything that is not a private vehicle, must wear a face covering, unless some very specific circumstances apply. The CDC has warned that it’s up to transportation operators to try and enforce this new directive as best they can, and it has made clear that any persons that refuse to wear a mask that covers both their nose and mouth are in violation of federal law.

Specifically, the order says that masks must be worn “while boarding, disembarking, and traveling on any conveyance into or within the United States,” as well as “at any transportation hub that provides transportation within the United States.” This includes things like subway systems, bus stations, and even airports.

Those with conditions that cannot wear masks are exempt, and masks may be removed for eating and drinking, or briefly to communicate with somebody who has trouble hearing (where the ability to see the mouth might be essential to understand what is being said), or if the removal of the mask is essential for identification purposes during a security screening.

Who will enforce it?

The CDC has bestowed the responsibility of enforcing the new law on transportation agencies themselves, and has ordered that operators and agencies should not permit entry to those without dace masks, and remind passengers that federal law dictates a face covering must be worn. It has even advised that those who persistently refuse to wear a mask should be removed from a service or transportation hub entirely.

This level of responsibility has raised concern in some quarters, with many agencies worrying that their staff will once again be placed in the firing line in what has been built up to be quite a thorny issue in the US.

Speaking to the Washington Post, the Amalgamated Transit Union, North America’s largest transportation workers guild, welcomed the move, but was wary that its members would not have sufficient power to enforce the new law.

“Public transportation providers need to immediately begin working with front line workers and their unions in order to develop practical and effective protocols for dealing with passengers who refuse to wear masks as mandated by the directive,” ATU International President John Costa said in a statement.

Mask wearing is something that other countries around the world have been enforcing for some time now, yet the entire issue become somewhat politicised during the Presidential Election back in November of 2020. It’s perhaps no surprise that a change of administration (and one which has backed mask-wearing throughout the pandemic) has coincided with this new CDC order.