The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an order requiring travelers in the United States to wear masks as part of a new initiative aimed at stemming outbreaks of the coronavirus.
According to the 11-page order issued on Friday, travelers entering and transiting throughout the country will be required to wear face coverings in all transportation hubs, which the C.D.C. defines as including any “airport, bus terminal, marina, seaport or other port, subway station, terminal, train station, U.S. port of entry or any other location that provides transportation.”
The language of the order largely puts the onus on transit operators to enforce the rule.
“Conveyance operators must use best efforts to ensure that any person on the conveyance wears a mask when boarding, disembarking and for the duration of travel,” the document said.
The new mandate, which comes as the country surpassed 26 million cases, is part of a string of executive orders and directives that President Biden signed on Thursday that aimed to ramp up the new administration’s ambitious goals of containing the latest surge and accelerating vaccine distribution.
A similar order was proposed during the Trump administration, but the White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, blocked the effort.
“Requiring masks on our transportation systems will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel safely even during this pandemic,” read the order, signed by Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the C.D.C.’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine. “Therefore, requiring masks will help us control this pandemic and aid in re-opening America’s economy.”
A footnote in the order states that the C.D.C. reserves the right to enforce the order “through criminal penalties.” But a spokesman for the agency said that the order relied heavily on voluntary action to enforce the mandate.
“C.D.C. strongly encourages and anticipates widespread voluntary compliance as well as support from other federal agencies in enforcing this order, to the extent permitted by law,” he said. “C.D.C. will be assisted with implementation by other federal partners, including D.H.S. and D.O.T.,” referring to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation.
The establishment of a national mask mandate for travelers was hailed by public health officials as a necessary step to fix the patchwork of local regulations that at times have let travelers move freely without facial coverings, in spite of ample data showing that mask wearing is key to preventing the spread of the virus.
“You needed this kind of coordinated response for quite some time,” said Dr. Melissa J. Perry, a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University. “So, uniform, across the board, everyone, everywhere, being required to wear masks will get us more soon to the end of the pandemic.”