U.S. travelers and commuters will be required to wear masks on nearly all forms of public transportation and inside transportation hubs, according to a late Friday emergency order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The mandate, which goes into effect on Tuesday and applies to most everyone over the age of 2, effectively reverses the Trump administration’s policy of leaving the choice to local leaders. It follows an executive order issued by President Biden on Jan. 21, which required passengers to wear face coverings during interstate travel.
Under the new CDC policy, face masks must be worn over the mouth and nose by all travelers on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares and inside airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations and seaports.
“Requiring masks on our transportation systems will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel safely even during this pandemic,” according to the 11-page order signed by Marty Cetron, director for CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. “Increasing universal masking by 15% could prevent the need for lockdowns and reduce associated losses of up to $1 trillion or about 5% of gross domestic product.”
The order says that failure to comply is a violation of a federal law and people without a mask won’t be allowed to board public transportation. The CDC said the order is an “emergency action” and that it would be enforced by state, federal and local law officials.
Opponents of the mandate are likely to challenge the action in court, though Wendy Parmet, director of the school’s center for health policy and law at Northeastern University Law School, said the authority comes from the same act that empowered the Trump administration to impose a moratorium on evictions. The CDC on Friday extended that moratorium, which was scheduled to expire on Jan. 31, to March 31.
A CDC effort to mandate masks in transit was blocked under President
Instead, the agency issued strong recommendations for mask use. Mr. Trump also rejected efforts by Congress to mandate mask use.
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The use of masks to control the spread of the coronavirus became a politically divisive issue last year. Many Republicans declined to wear them, questioning their effectiveness and saying that a mask mandate was a case of the government infringing on their personal liberty. Mr. Trump didn’t wear one in public through much of last summer.
Supporters of masks cited studies showing their effectiveness in slowing the spread of the virus.
The different approaches by the Trump White House and the CDC toward masks led to regular clashes and a decline in confidence in the CDC, for many years one of the nation’s most trusted federal agencies.
The CDC order delivered on Friday exempts people with disabilities who cannot wear a mask and private cars for personal use. People will also be allowed to take their mask off to eat or drink or to identify themselves.
The order comes as 25.9 million people in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began, accounting for more than a quarter of the global total.
Write to Douglas Belkin at [email protected]
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