During his campaign for the presidency, Joe Biden acknowledged that his powers to institute a national mask mandate to slow the spread of the coronavirus would be limited. Only governors have the power to require masks.
But he did point out one action that would be within his grasp: A requirement that all passengers using public transportation must be masked.
On Jan. 20, he signed an executive order requiring masks on all public transportation, and at midnight on Feb. 1, that rule went into effect. Anyone who refuses to wear a mask on any airplane, bus, subway, taxi, train, or ride-share is now in violation of federal law.
What the New Rules Say
The new rules are spelled out in an 11-page order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here are some of the key points:
- Passengers may remove the masks when eating, drinking, or taking medications.
- Children under age 2 are exempted.
- Persons with disabilities covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act may be exempted.
- Masks are also required in waiting areas such as airports, bus terminals, and subway platforms.
- The masks must cover nose and mouth. Face shields, scarves, and bandanas don’t qualify as masks.
The Threat of Criminal Penalties
Although airlines and most public transportation already require masks, the CDC order means it will be easier to enforce rules because anyone who refuses to wear masks is violating federal law.
The CDC said that while criminal penalties are possible, the agency doesn’t want to rely on them, but instead “strongly encourages and anticipates widespread voluntary compliance.”
So, if you are planning to use public transportation anytime soon, don’t forget your mask!