CDC advises booting travelers who refuse to wear masks on planes, trains, buses, other transportation
As the U.S. surpassed 220,000 COVID-19 deaths, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance about wearing masks while traveling. USA TODAY
The Centers for Disease Control endorsed Monday what has already become a required practice around the country, recommending that anyone traveling on airlines, trains, subways, buses or other public transport wear a mask.
If passengers don't comply, those who won't put on masks should be ordered to get off when possible, the CDC says in its interim guidance on the issue. Airlines or other transportation providers should, "at the earliest opportunity, disembark any person who refuses to comply."
The CDC's "strong recommendation" could be a boost to airlines, ride-hailing drivers and others who have seen resistance by some passengers to rules requiring they wear masks while traveling in close proximity to strangers to ward off the spread of the coronavirus.
The only exceptions to not wearing a mask should be for those travelers who take them off while eating, drinking or taking medication; those who become incapacitated for any reason or can't remove their masks by themselves; or when needed to show their identity, such as when traveling through a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at an airport.
"Wide use of masks especially helps protect those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 as well as workers who frequently come into close contact with other people," the CDC said in justifying its advice.
The advice notes that it's not just the transportation itself that presents an opportunity for the virus. It's also anyplace where people gather while waiting to board, whether it's an airport, train or bus station or subway platform.
Individual airlines gradually introduced mask requirements last spring when COVID-19 lockdowns became prevalent in the U.S., and have enforced them by placing noncompliant passengers on no-fly lists.
Airlines for America, the leading airline trade group in the U.S., says masks are but one important layer in a series of steps to make sure the virus isn't transmitted on flights.
"The face-covering requirement along with enhanced disinfection practices and health acknowledgment forms are key components of our multi-layered approach to protecting the well-being of our employees and the traveling public," spokesman Carter Yang said.
A trade group representing a broad swath of travel-related businesses backed the CDC's new guidance.
"There simply cannot be an economic and jobs recovery unless travel is able to broadly resume, and the universal embrace of mask-wearing and other hygiene measures is the thing that is going to enable that to happen," said U.S. Travel Association CEO Roger Dow in a statement.
He called the CDC's message "helpful and clear" and said it was especially valuable coming ahead of what at least in past years has been a busy holiday travel season.