People across the United States will soon be required to wear masks on almost all forms of public transportation, including planes, subways and buses, as the country grapples with high rates of COVID infection -19 and growing concerns about new variants of the novel coronavirus.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) issued a order Friday evening, that all travelers “must wear masks that completely cover both mouth and nose” on planes, boats, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis and carpools.
The order, which takes effect at 11:59 p.m. ET Monday (4:59 a.m. GMT Tuesday), applies to travel to, within and outside the country.
Masks are also to be worn in “transport hubs… and other places where people board public transport,” the agency said.
The order comes as US President Joe Biden seeks to bring the COVID-19 pandemic under control in the United States, which has reported nearly 26 million COVID-19 cases and at least 437,000 coronavirus-related deaths – the numbers highest of any country in the world. world.
Since taking office, Biden has sign an executive order requiring masks to be worn on federal property, requiring interstate travelers to wear masks and pledging to join the World Health Organization (WHO), from which former President Donald Trump has stepped down.
Biden also “challenged” people across the United States to wear masks during his first 100 days in office, which departs from Trump’s approach, which has largely avoided the public health measure and opposed statewide mask warrants.
In its public transport order, the CDC says it “reserves the right to enforce through criminal penalties” failure to comply with the mask rule, but did not specify what those penalties might be.
The agency also said it “does not intend to rely primarily” on these sanctions, “but rather strongly encourages and anticipates widespread voluntary compliance.” This requirement will be enforced by federal authorities and “may be enforced by cooperating state and local authorities”.
New variants and vaccines
The United States saw a spike in coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths in late 2020.
Recent indications that the health crisis could be stabilizing have been largely overshadowed by the arrival of new, potentially more contagious, variants of the virus in the country.
Thursday, health officials ad a variant that first appeared in South Africa was first confirmed in the United States. The variant appears to spread faster because it carries a mutation that allows it to bind more easily to human cells.
More infectious variants that first appeared in the UK and Brazil have also been found in the USA. The Biden administration has since reinstated travel restrictions for travelers from Brazil, Ireland, the United Kingdom and South Africa, among other countries.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Dr Anthony Fauci, a US infectious disease specialist, said the new variants underscored the need for people to also be vaccinated as soon as possible.
He expressed optimism on recent clinical studies of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, which is currently seeking emergency use authorization.
Biden said his administration would increase his involvement in vaccine distribution at the state level, a system which he said was “in worse shape than expected” when it took office on January 20. Her administration has announced that it plans to investigate vaccine shortages in some areas.
To date, at least 49 million vaccines have been distributed in U.S. states, with just under 28 million doses administered, according to CDC data.