The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued a sweeping order requiring the wearing of masks to protect against the spread of Covid-19 on virtually every form of public transportation throughout the country.
The order, issued late on January 29, extends to travel on airplanes, trains, buses, taxis, ride-shares, subways, ferries and ships.
It expands on one of the first executive orders signed by President Joe Biden, which required masking for interstate travel as part of a larger strategy to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
The new order, which also covers intrastate travel, takes effect at 11:59pm on February 1 (0459 February 2 GMT).
The order states: “Wearing masks on our transportation systems will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel safely even during this pandemic.
“Therefore, requiring masks will help us control this pandemic and aid in reopening America’s economy.”
The CDC order covers passengers and transportation operators both during travel and while waiting in transportation hubs.
It says operators must make “best efforts” to enforce mask-wearing, and if necessary should disembark anyone refusing to comply.
It says, without providing much detail, that enforcement will ultimately be the responsibility of the federal Transportation Security Administration, as well as of “cooperating state and local authorities”.
Noncompliance will constitute “a violation of federal law”, according to the order.
Exemptions to mask-wearing are allowed for people eating, drinking or taking medication, as well as those communicating with the hearing-impaired. Masks can also be briefly removed during identity checks.
The US has the world’s worst Covid-19 statistics, but the numbers of cases and hospitalisations have declined for the past two weeks, with some experts partly crediting improved adherence to masking and social-distancing measures.
One of Biden’s first official acts after his inauguration January 20 was to order mask-wearing on federal property. He has said consistent mask-wearing could save 50,000 US lives by April.
But former President Donald Trump frequently mocked the practice – and was rarely seen wearing a mask – making enforcement of the new standard more problematic in some parts of the country.