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February 1, 2021

What you need to know about CDC's new face mask requirements

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    CDC on Friday issued a new order that will require people in the United States to wear face masks on most forms of public transportation, including on all domestic flights and ride-shares, and at transportation hubs such as airports and bus terminals.

    Order details

    The order is scheduled to take effect on Monday at 11:59 p.m. ET. It requires all operators and "passengers on public conveyances" who are traveling into or within the United States to wear masks that cover both their noses and mouths. The order applies to passengers on airplanes, buses, ferries, ride-shares, ships, subways, taxis, trains, and taxis. The order also requires people to wear face masks at transportation hubs, which include any "airport, bus terminal, marina, seaport or other port, subway station, terminal, train station, U.S. port of entry or any other location that provides transportation."

    The order states that the masks can be homemade or manufactured, but some types of face coverings will not qualify as masks under the order. Those include bandanas; face shields; masks with exhalation valves, slits, or punctures; and masks that are too big or don't fit properly.

    The order contains some exceptions. For example, the new requirements will not apply to children ages 2 and younger, nor will they apply to individuals who have disabilities that prevent them from safely wearing a face mask. In addition, the order states that operators and passengers can remove their masks "for brief periods" while drinking, eating, or taking medications.

    According to the Associated Press, the federal Transportation Security Administration and other federal, state, and local authorities will be responsible for enforcing the new requirements. However, the order directs public transit operators to remove passengers who refuse to comply with the mask requirements "at the earliest opportunity." It states, "Conveyance operators must use best efforts to ensure that any person on the conveyance wears a mask when boarding, disembarking, and for the duration of travel."

    The order also states that individuals who violate the new requirements could face criminal penalties or civil penalties for violating federal law. However, the order notes that CDC "does not intend to rely primarily on these criminal penalties but instead strongly encourages and anticipates widespread voluntary compliance."

    In addition, the order states that transportation operators may require passengers to provide a negative test result for the novel coronavirus before using their services, though it does not mandate that transportation operators implement such a requirement.

    Martin Cetron, director of the CDC's Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, signed the order. The order states that "[r]equiring masks on our transportation systems will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel safely even during [the novel coronavirus] pandemic." It continues, "Therefore, requiring masks will help us control this pandemic and aid in reopening America's economy."

    According to NPR, the order underscores the Biden administration's push to encourage mask wearing among Americans—and the different approach President Biden is taking to address the pandemic when compared with former President Donald Trump. For instance, NPR notes that Trump administration officials had blocked CDC from implementing mask requirements on public transportation.

    Melissa Perry, a professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University, praised the new order. "You needed this kind of coordinated response for quite some time," she said. "So, uniform, across the board, everyone, everywhere, being required to wear masks will get us more soon to the end of the pandemic."

    CDC extends federal moratorium on evictions

    Separately, CDC on Friday also extended through March 31 a federal moratorium on evictions. The moratorium had been scheduled to expire on Sunday, NPR reports.

    CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in a statement said the extension is key to curbing America's coronavirus epidemic and easing financial strain on Americans affected by the epidemic's economic fallout.

    "Despite extensive mitigation efforts, Covid-19 continues to spread in America at a concerning pace," she said. "The pandemic has also exacerbated underlying issues of housing insecurity for many Americans. Keeping people in their homes and out of congregate settings—like shelters—is a key step in helping to stop the spread of Covid-19."

    America grapples with persistently high rates of new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths

    The moves come as America continues to report persistently high rates of new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

    According to data compiled by the New York Times, U.S. officials on Sunday reported about 111,478 new cases of the novel coronavirus. As of Monday morning, officials had reported a total of about 26.2 million cases of the virus since America's epidemic began.

    According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 148,460—which is down by 32% when compared with the average from two weeks ago, when the United States was in the midst its worst peak yet in newly reported cases.

    As of Monday morning, data from the Times showed that the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Alabama, North Dakota, and Vermont, which have reported a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. In contrast, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" as of Monday morning in Guam, Hawaii, Oregon, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

    All other states and Washington, D.C., had been seeing comparatively higher rates of coronavirus transmission, but the daily average of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past seven days in those areas was "going down" as of Monday morning, according to the Times' data.

    U.S. hospitalizations for Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, remained high as of Sunday, though the number of Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 has decreased significantly from highs seen last month. According to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project, there were 95,013 Americans with Covid-19 hospitalized for treatment on Sunday, including 18,968 who were receiving care in an ICU and 6,291 who were on a ventilator.

    The United States' rate of newly reported deaths linked to the novel coronavirus also declined over the past week, though it remains high. According to data from the Times, U.S. officials reported about 1,875 new deaths linked to the virus on Sunday. As of Monday morning, officials had reported a total of about 441,296 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began.

    (Breslow, NPR, 1/30; AP/USA Today, 2/1; Montague, New York Times, 1/30; Gonzalez, Axios, 1/30; CDC order, 1/30; New York Times, 2/1; COVID Tracking Project, The Atlantic, accessed 2/1).

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