Mask mandate for airlines, public transit taking effect

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a mask-wearing rule late Friday that builds on an order announced Jan. 21 by President Joe Biden. The rule took effect late Monday, just before midnight.

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Sign on a CTA train telling passengers to wear masks, and maintain social distancing.

In Chicago, the CTA already posts signs on mask-wearing and social distancing. The recorded announcements on trains also include reminders.


ATLANTA — Travelers on airplanes and public transportation like buses and subways are now required to wear face masks starting to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The 11-page order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took effect late Monday, just before midnight. It makes refusal to wear a mask a violation of federal law, enforced by the Transportation Security Administration and other federal, state and local authorities.

It was signed by Dr. Marty Cetron, director of CDC’s division of migration and quarantine, who said it “will protect Americans and provide confidence that we can once again travel safely even during this pandemic.”

Issued late Friday, the CDC rule builds on an order announced Jan. 21 by President Joe Biden.

The CDC rule applies to passengers on airplanes, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares. It says travelers must wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth while riding and while getting on and off rides. The order extends to waiting areas such as airports, train platforms and subway stations.

In Chicago, Metra has been complying with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s mask mandate since May, requiring masks in stations and on trains, and conductors have extras to hand out when needed, spokesman Michael Gillis said.

More than 99% of riders already comply with the mask rule, Gillis said. With the new federal mandate, he added, tickets will not be sold to anyone not wearing a mask.

The CTA already posts signs asking passengers to wear masks and maintain social distancing, and recorded announcements include those reminders, as well.

Neither the CTA nor the Chicago Department of Aviation, which oversees O’Hare and Midway airports, responded to requests for comment on the new mandate.

Airlines already require masks and have banned more than 2,000 passengers for refusing to wear one. Flight attendant unions have said a federal rule will make it easier for crews to enforce the requirement.

The order exempts children under 2 and people with a disability that makes it unsafe to wear a mask. Airlines struggled with an exemption for safety and stopped allowing it. The CDC said transportation operators can require medical documentation.

Travelers will be allowed to remove masks while eating or drinking.

The CDC said some face coverings aren’t good enough to comply with the rule. The don’t-travel list includes face shields, bandanas, masks with exhalation valves and masks that are too big or otherwise don’t fit properly.

Transportation operators may require a negative COVID-19 test from passengers, the CDC said. Cetron said this week the health agency is considering requiring testing of passengers on flights within the United States, but the airline industry is fighting a testing requirement out of fear that fewer people will fly. U.S. air travel is already down more than 60% from a year ago.

The CDC rule came just over a week after Biden’s executive order, which already mandated masks on certain modes of public transportation including planes and trains, and also mandated masks on federal property. 

Contributing: Isabelle Sarraf

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