CDC issues ‘strong recommendation’ for wearing masks on shared mobility modes

Oct. 20, 2020
The interim guidance issued Monday is for passengers and operators on planes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis and rideshares.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its interim guidance regarding the use of face coverings for passengers and operators on shared mobility modes and says face masks are a “strong recommendation” to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.  

The CDC interim guidance also recommends mask wearing while at an airport, terminal, station, port or other area that provides transportation.

“America’s transportation systems are essential. Not only are they essential for public health, they are also vital for America’s economy and other bedrocks of American life,” the CDC stated in its guidance. “Appropriately worn masks reduce the spread of COVID-19—particularly given the evidence of pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.”

At the beginning of October, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) denied a petition by the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) that masks be required on all forms of commercial public transportation through an emergency order. USDOT noted that many state and local entities, as well as private sector transportation providers, have adopted mask requirements and the department did not want to implement “more regulations than necessary.”

Transit systems in the U.S. have implemented mask mandates or strongly encourage riders to wear face coverings. The challenge has been in the enforcement of these rules.

A swell of negative coverage followed a man being forcibly removed from a Philadelphia bus for not wearing a mask. Over the summer, a long list of assaults against riders and operators have occurred involving other passengers who were non-complaint with mask rules.

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority began issuing $50 fines on those out of compliance, while the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District offered a mask optional rail car on its Southern Shore Line in order to reduce the number of complaints from mask compliant passengers.

The CDC guidance says boarding should be refused to anyone not wearing a mask and require masks from boarding, disembarking and for the duration of travel.

“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. Therefore, CDC is providing this guidance to further support state and local health authorities, transportation partners, and conveyance operators who have implemented requirements for masks to support passenger and crew safety, maintain safe and operational transportation systems, mitigate further introduction and spread of COVID-19 and help safely re-open America’s economy,” the CDC guidance said.

U.S. Rep David Price (D-NC-4), who is chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations, believes the CDC's guidance is a move in the right direction, but would like to see more done. 

"I’m glad the CDC is finally 'strongly recommending' passengers and workers wear masks when utilizing public transportation, despite political pressure from the White House to ignore and downplay the COVID-19 threat,” said Chairman Price. “However, I urge the CDC to go a step further. A mandate would ensure even more people adhere to this simple yet effective method to slow the spread of the virus—protecting riders, workers and the general public. As mentioned in the guidance, local transmission can grow quickly into interstate and international transmission when infected persons travel without wearing a mask and in close proximity to others."


Story updated Oct. 20 2pm to incorporate Chairman Price's statement. 

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.