TAMPA, Fla. - Travelers on airplanes and public transportation like buses and subways are now required to wear face masks under a federal mask mandate to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a mask-wearing rule late Friday that builds on an order announced Jan. 21 by President Joe Biden.
The rule was already in effect in most places but with the CDC mandate, it takes the pressure off individual companies and their face-to-face workers. As of midnight, the order makes it a federal offense to not wear masks on public and commercial transportation. Travelers must wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth while riding and while getting on and off rides.
That means if you’re on a plane, train, bus, boat, ferry, subway, the Ybor City streetcar or riding around town in a cab or an Uber, you need to have your mask on.
In fact, at the airport, you won’t be able to clear the TSA checkpoint without a mask, meaning someone who absolutely refuses to wear one will be a federal agent’s problem to deal with and not a flight attendant’s.
Airlines already require masks and have banned more than 2,000 passengers for refusing to wear one. Flight attendant unions have said a federal rule will make it easier for crews to enforce the requirement.
The order exempts children under 2 years of age and people with a disability that makes it unsafe to wear a mask. Airlines struggled with an exemption for safety and stopped allowing it. The CDC said transportation operators can require medical documentation.
Travelers will be allowed to remove masks while eating or drinking.
The CDC said some face coverings aren’t good enough to comply with the rule. The don’t-travel list includes face shields, bandanas, masks with exhalation valves and masks that are too big or otherwise don’t fit properly.
The CDC said this policy is vital to mitigating the spread on mass transit, which brings large numbers of people together in small spaces for prolonged periods of time -- ideal conditions for the virus to circulate. The order comes as a new South African strain of the virus has been detected in South Carolina.
The CDC rule came just over a week after Biden’s executive order, which already mandated masks on certain modes of public transportation including planes and trains, and it mandated masks on federal property.
The Associated Press contributed to this report