CDC Issues Order Mandating Masks on Public Transportation

CDC Mandates Masks on Public Transportation

CDC Mandates Masks on Public Transportation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order late Friday that mandates the use of masks on airplanes, trains, buses and other public transportation as the U.S. seeks to contain the spread of COVID-19. This comes after President Biden issued an executive order Jan. 21 directing federal agencies to “immediately take action” to mandate masks for all means of transportation.

The new order goes into effect Monday, Feb. 1, 2021 at 11:59 PM. It mandates the use of face coverings at places such as bus terminals, airports, train stations and subway stops as well as in taxis and ride-share vehicles.

“People must wear masks that cover both the mouth and nose when awaiting, boarding, traveling on, or disembarking public conveyances. People must also wear masks when entering or on the premises of a transportation hub in the United States,” the CDC said in its announcement. The order does not apply to children under the age of 2 years old. Passengers may also briefly remove their face masks to eat, drink or take medications.

Masks were already a requirement for most forms of transportation. But usually it was a requirement mandated by individual companies, such as airlines. Now the CDC order makes failure to wear a mask during travel a violation of federal law, which companies will likely cite to further enforce mask requirements. Airlines have already said that many customers have been denied service over the issue since last year, and there have been many viral moments caught on video of passengers refusing to wear masks.

Mask Requirements

Public transportation 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. Depending on the circumstances, public transportation operators must take the following actions:

  • board only people who wear masks;
  • instruct people that wearing a mask on the conveyance is a requirement of federal law and that not complying with the requirement is a violation of federal law;
  • monitor the conveyance for any person who is not wearing a mask and seek compliance from such a person;
  • at the earliest safe opportunity, disembark any person who refuses to comply; and
  • notify people of the requirement to make sure they aware of and comply with the requirement to wear a mask. Examples of such notifications are messaging in apps, on websites or through email; posters in multiple languages with illustrations; and printing the information on tickets.


People are not required to wear a mask under the following circumstances:

  • while eating, drinking, or taking medication for brief periods of time;
  • while communicating, for brief periods of time, with a person who is hearing impaired when the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication;
  • if, on an aircraft, wearing of oxygen masks is needed because of loss of cabin pressure or other event affecting aircraft ventilation;
  • if unconscious (for reasons other than sleeping), incapacitated, unable to be awakened, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance; or
  • when necessary to temporarily remove the mask to verify one’s identity such as during Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening or when asked to do so by the ticket or gate agent or any law enforcement official.

The following categories of people are exempt from the requirement to wear a mask:

  • A child under the age of 2 years;
  • A person with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, for reasons related to the disability;
  • A person 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.

People on board the following categories of conveyances are exempt from the requirement to wear a mask:

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  • Private conveyances operated only for personal, non-commercial use;
  • Commercial motor vehicles or trucks, if the driver is the only person in the vehicle or truck;
  • Conveyances operated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) as long as the operator of the conveyance follows all DOD requirements to prevent spread of COVID-19.

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