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Face mask mandate for transit goes into effect late Feb. 1

As Reported by Mischa Wanek-Libman for Mass Transit

Users of surface transportation modes within the United States will be required to properly wear face masks starting at 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 1. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published an order late Friday night outlining the mask requirements for people inside transportation hubs, as well as on public conveyances, such as airplanes, ferries, trains, buses, taxis and ride-shares. The order applies to both passengers and employees.

“America’s transportation systems are essential,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, MPH. “Given how interconnected most transportation systems are across our nation and the world, when infected persons travel on public conveyances without wearing a mask and with others who are not wearing masks, the risk of interstate and international transmission can grow quickly.”

CDC issued guidance last year that strongly encouraged the wearing of masks on surface transportation modes. The U.S. Department of Transportation denied a petition by the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO in October that requested masks be required on all forms of commercial public transportation through an emergency order.

Many transit agencies across the U.S. have had rules in place requiring the use of masks. Additionally, agencies have handed out free masks, installed mask dispensers in buses, implemented communications with riders about the requirement to wear masks and joined the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Health and Safety Commitments Program that communicates best practices to reduce the risk of spreading the virus for both agencies and their riders.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York reports a survey conducted by observers found mask usage was at 97 percent among subway riders and 99 percent among bus riders. In the Philadelphia area, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority says average daily mask use rate is about 90 percent among bus, train and trolley riders. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which tracks mask usage weekly, reports 95 percent of observed passengers work masks properly.

APTA President and and CEO Paul Skoutelas explains, while there has been no direct correlation found between the use of public transit and the transmission of the virus, he called the wearing of masks a “lifesaving measure” supported by the association.

“From the start of the pandemic, public transportation systems have worked tirelessly to keep riders safe from infection from the coronavirus. The health and safety of transit passengers is the most important priority for public transportation agencies,” said Skoutelas. “Mask-wearing is one of several proven, science-based measures that can reduce the spread and transmission of COVID-19. Wearing facemasks on public transit is a lifesaving measure that the industry wholeheartedly supports, and this guidance reflects the shared responsibility of transit systems and riders to take appropriate actions to get through this pandemic.”

Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring mask usage on travel modes. The CDC order is in support of this action and will remain in effect until the Secretary of Health and Human Services rescinds the public health emergency.

As far as enforcement of the order is concerned, CDC notes it reserves the right to enforce the order through criminal penalties, but does not intend to use these penalties as a primary means of enforcement. Instead, CDC will promote voluntary compliance.

“CDC recommends that non-essential travel be avoided; however, for those who must travel, additional measures are being put in place to help prevent the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Walensky. “Masks are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely and consistently used by all people in public settings.”

In support of the CDC order and implement President Biden’s Executive Order, the Transit Security Administration (TSA) issued a Security Directive on Jan. 31 outlining the requirement to properly wear a face mask while using air or surface passenger transportation.

Starting on February 2, 2021, TSA will require individuals to wear a mask at TSA airport screening checkpoints and throughout the commercial and public transportation systems. This requirement will remain effective until May 11, 2021.

“TSA will fully comply with the president’s Executive Orders, CDC guidance and the DHS National Emergency determination to ensure healthy and secure travel across all transportation sectors. This will help prevent further spread of COVID-19 and encourage a unified government response,” said Darby LaJoye, senior official performing the duties of the TSA Administrator. “As we continue to experience impacts from this pandemic, we are committed to this measure as the right thing to do for the TSA workforce, for our industry stakeholders and for passengers.”