We’ve entered into a new, sweeping era of “masking up” across America. The CDC issued guidance that as of 11:59 pm on Monday, February 1, 2021 masks must be worn in train, subway, and bus stations, in airports, and on airplanes and public transportation.
This new rule is on the heels of a flurry of new executive orders and policies implemented in recent weeks by the U.S. government in the face of increasing COVID-19 cases around the country. There’s been a lot of general speculation around whether airlines will soon require a negative COVID-9 test from passengers at boarding, or require mandatory quarantines when you land.
The order explicitly states that masks must be worn “while boarding, disembarking, and traveling on any conveyance into or within the United States,” and “at any transportation hub that provides transportation within the United States.”
Air carriers and other transportation companies are instructed that they “must use best efforts” to enforce the mandate, including “at the earliest opportunity, disembarking any person who refuses to comply.”
This is a step farther than what had been suggested in the past, when enforcement could fall to the flight crews or pilot on a particular flight. Over the past few months, we’ve seen stories of passengers being forced to deplane if they refused to comply, but social media also showed many instances when unmasked and defiant travelers were permitted to remain on board.
The order states that Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA) will be in charge of enforcement, along with other unnamed “federal agencies.”
Exceptions to the rule include small children and people with some disabilities.
The order was actually issued by the CDC last year, but was blocked by the Trump Administration. His first week in office, Biden’s White House asked for public health recommendations from the CDC and then moved to implement the mandate.
In the past, safety reports to the federal government indicate some passengers flat out refused to wear masks on airplanes, and some flight attendants have reported being on the receiving end of abusive behavior by angry customers.
This new rule is certain to give the airlines an “out” in that they can now point to a federal mandate, instead of a “company policy” which some people might be less likely to flout. If passengers refuse to comply, they can be subjected to removal but how this might be enforced when airborne is a bit of a mystery.
In a reversal from their stated policy under the previous administration, the FAA now says it is “strictly enforcing a zero-tolerance policy toward passengers who cause disturbances on flights or fail to obey flight crew instructions.”
At time of publishing, it was unclear exactly what a “zero-tolerance policy” might mean for air travelers. We’d like to hear what you think. Is the mask mandate a public health necessity to help keep Americans safe, or do you feel like it’s unproven and/or encroaching on your freedom?