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Not wearing a coronavirus face mask in these locations is now a federal crime

Published Feb 2nd, 2021 6:59PM EST
Coronavirus update
Image: Syda Productions/Adobe

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  • As part of the latest coronavirus update from the US federal government, the CDC has now codified a Biden administration mandate requiring coronavirus face masks to be worn by travelers in certain settings.
  • The CDC’s order reiterates that it’s now a violation of federal law to not wear face masks on public transportation, such as on airplanes and subways.
  • President Biden also made a public call to everyone to wear face masks whenever they’re outside, in almost every setting, for at least the first 100 days of his administration.

The latest coronavirus update from the drugmaker Pfizer is that it should be able to deliver 200 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the US by May, earlier than its initial target of June.

That’s according to a new report, which says that, now that health care providers are able to extract an extra dose of Pfizer’s vaccine from vials, the company should be able to successfully deliver some 2 billion doses of the vaccine globally by the end of this year. That’s promising news indeed, because a vaccine coupled with other continuing public health measures is what’s generally understood as the formula needed to bring about the end of the coronavirus pandemic. The Biden administration, on a related note, has also now formalized what’s needed on the other side of that equation to help hasten the pandemic’s end — codifying into law public health measures, like the requirement to wear a coronavirus face mask.

President Trump was generally pretty resistant to both wearing a coronavirus face mask himself and encouraging other people to do so, something President Biden has completely reversed course on. On January 21, Biden announced an order requiring face masks to be worn in places where the president can exert federal authority, like on airplanes, and the CDC has followed that order by issuing a face mask rule of its own that builds on the president’s order.

Basically, if you’re riding on an airplane or public transportation like buses and subways, it’s now a federal law that you have to wear a coronavirus face mask. The CDC’s order went into effect late Monday night, and it makes not wearing a face mask in these specific instances a federal crime — one that’s enforceable by the TSA, as well as various other federal, local, and state agencies and officials.

“Masks are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings,” the CDC’s order reads. “Using masks along with other preventive measures, including social distancing, frequent handwashing, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces, is one of the most effective strategies available for reducing COVID-19 transmission.”

Key details to know from the CDC’s order: It applies to passengers of planes, trains, buses, taxis, subways, and ride-share services. Travelers are required to cover their nose and mouth with the mask while riding, as well as getting off and on their ride — and also while they’re in the public waiting areas associated with those transportation methods.

Children under age 2 are exempted from following the order. So are people with a disability that would make it unsafe for them to adhere to the order, though the CDC gives transportation officials discretion to ask for medical documents proving the disability. Additionally, travelers are allowed to take off the mask while eating. Among the benefits of the order, it should certainly make flight attendants’ jobs a bit easier — already, airlines have put more than 2,000 passengers on a banned list for not following the airlines’ own face mask rules. Presumably, people won’t try to get away with that as much anymore, now that it’s a federal requirement.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.