The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its coronavirus travel guidance on Monday to include a recommendation that passengers and employees on mass transit wear masks to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Travel operators are asked to help ensure that passengers wear masks when boarding, throughout travel, and while disembarking. If a passenger refuses, the CDC asks that they be refused service and/or be removed at the earliest opportunity.
“Traveling on public conveyances increases a person’s risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 by bringing persons in close contact with others, often for prolonged periods, and exposing them to frequently touched surfaces,” the CDC said. “Broad and routine utilization of masks on our transportation systems will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel more safely even during this pandemic.”
The updated guidance follows a recent New York Times report that found the White House blocked the CDC’s earlier attempt to issue a far stronger, nationwide mask mandate for public transportation. That mandate would have required passengers and employees to wear face masks on planes, trains, buses and subways, as well as at transit networks such as airports, train stations and bus depots.
The mandate had the support of the secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar. However, the White House’s coronavirus task force reportedly declined to discuss it, with a task force official stating the decision to require masks should be left up to states and localities.
Airlines already require that passengers and their employees wear masks, and recent studies on air travel show that face coverings can reduce virus transmission.
One such study by the U.S. Department of Defense concluded that the risk of COVID-19 exposure on aircraft is “virtually non-existent” when masks are worn. Another study by the University of Edinburgh found that face coverings can reduce the forward spread of potential COVID-19 droplets from the mouth by 90% when properly worn.
The International Air Transport Association, a trade association that represents 82% of the world’s air traffic, states on its website that passengers who refuse to comply with the airline industry’s mask mandate can face removal, penalties under national laws, and restrictions on future travel.
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