Travelers are now required to wear face masks while using any kind of public transportation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued the order on Jan. 29 as part of the nationwide efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Public health experts and even members of the public praised the decision on social media, though some stated that this action was long overdue.
“I really like the fact that the mask mandate has started,” Dr. Ali Raja, an emergency physician and co-founder of Get Us PPE, said on Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “I’m worried about some of the nuts and bolts, especially the people who have a medical condition but don’t have medical documentation of it. But this is the right direction. Quite honestly, this is what we should have done many months ago.”
During the Trump administration, health professionals called for such a directive to no avail. Former President Trump not only rejected congressional efforts to mandate mask wearing, but his administration’s Coronavirus Task Force also blocked a push by the CDC to issue a mandate.
The current CDC order applies to both passengers and conveyance operators, and must be followed while boarding and disembarking as well. It mandates that masks cover both the mouth and nose and “be a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves, or punctures.” Additionally, cloth masks have to be made with two or more layers of tightly woven fabric, while neck gaiters must have two layers of fabric.
‘Such a great move’
Delta (DAL) CEO Ed Bastian released a memo praising the Biden administration for the move, noting that the airline has banned approximately 950 passengers so far for failing to adhere to mask policies.
The CDC mandate notes that rules can be enforced “through criminal penalties,” though the CDC won’t rely “primarily” on those but rather “strongly encourages and anticipates” voluntary compliance throughout the country, along with support from other federal agencies in implementing the measure.
Dr. Raja hailed it as “such a great move” but noted that there are caveats to this order.
“Obviously, you don’t have to wear a mask if you’re a child under 2 years of age or if you’ve got a medical condition that prevents the mask from having to be worn,” he said. “The medical condition bit was tricky when the airlines tried to do it, and eventually the airlines actually said ‘no, you know what? Just saying you have a medical condition is not enough.’ What the CDC has said is that transportation companies may require medical documentation.”
People exempt from the rule include those under 2 years of age, anyone with a disability who cannot wear a mask or cannot do so safely, or someone “for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty as determined by the relevant workplace safety guidelines or federal regulations.”
Raja argued that aside from widespread vaccination, hand hygiene, and staying at home, masking up is the next-best thing the country can be doing right now.
“The vaccination process will get us to the end of this pandemic,” he said. “Realistically, we won’t see the full effects of that until much more of the population is vaccinated, and that’s not happening until late spring or early summer. What’s going to happen to us now — travel mandates, mask mandates.”
Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.