According to the CDC order, a mask should "completely [cover] the nose and mouth," be "secured to the head [using] ties or ear loops" and "fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face." It also mentioned that masks should consist of "a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves or punctures." Medical masks and N-95 respirators are automatically deemed compliant to this new mandate.
Travelers who refuse to wear masks may be removed from public transportation and banned from traveling, aside from facing criminal penalties. The CDC said it "reserves the right to enforce [the order]" by means of these penalties. It added that federal authorities may also implement "additional civil measures" to implement the mandate – as long as these were permitted by law.
The public health agency exhorted transportation crew and transport hub operators to "use their best efforts" to make sure travelers were masked up throughout the entire trip. Among the steps it suggested included permitting entry only to those wearing proper face masks, informing people that failure to wear a mask constitutes a federal offense and removing non-compliant travelers from the premises or the conveyance.
The mask mandate does not apply when a person is eating or drinking, taking medication, communicating with a hearing-impaired individual or verifying his or her identity. It also exempted children under two years old, people who cannot wear masks because of disabilities and those who may "create a risk to workplace health, safety or job duty" by mask-wearing.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Feb. 1 that the CDC's new rule came more than a week after a similar mandate by President Joe Biden. The president signed an executive order on Jan. 20, his first day in office, mandating that masks be worn and physical distancing measures be observed on federal property.
Reason Senior Editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown enumerated the problems with the CDC's new mask-wearing order.
First, she mentioned that creating a vast network of law enforcement officials to make sure people adhere to the orders is another convenient reason to illegally monitor citizens. Second, she said deputizing federal, state and local law enforcement to enforce mask-wearing on public transportation opens up opportunities for police harassment and abuse. (Related: Governments left and right just won't stop tyrannizing people with mask mandates.)
Brown also remarked that both people not wearing masks and those who do are subject to any arbitrary enforcement. Travelers taking off their masks to eat, drink or take medicine may find themselves on the wrong side of the law. The reasonable duration of being mask-less for these activities depends on individual officers, she noted.
The Reason senior editor also pointed out that the kind of masks permitted on public transportation will again depend on individual officers' discretion. While the CDC guidelines laid down the criteria for what constitutes a proper mask, authorities have a lot of leeway to choose who to target for enforcement.
Individual states have implemented mask mandates even before the CDC made face coverings mandatory on public transportation. In Florida, at least 40 officers of the Miami Police Department have been assigned to enforce mask-wearing orders. They have been authorized to fine individuals $50, $100 and $500 for flouting mask mandates. People who get caught without a mask at the fourth instance can face jail time, city officials said.
Meanwhile, in New York state, a task force in Ramapo town commenced their "mask patrol." Town employees have partnered with state authorities to enforce public health protocols in Rockland County, where Ramapo is located. Six code enforcement and parking enforcement employees underwent training to become part of a COVID-19 enforcement group. They have been authorized to fine erring individuals as much as $15,000 for non-compliance with public health guidelines.
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