The airlines described the dangerous results of the refusal of passengers to comply with the requirements for masks issued by the airlines. Safety reports to the federal government show that flight attendants have been repeatedly harassed and verbally abused by passengers, including some who call the virus a “political scam.”
Biden’s action follows in the footsteps of an earlier order Wednesday – the first he issued as president – demanding masks on federal property. Together, the orders are as close to a national mandate as federal powers allow, because only states and municipalities can require residents to wear masks locally.
The Trump administration has rejected calls from Congress, unions representing transportation workers, and public health experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to demand masks.
Biden had said before taking office that he would need masks for “interstate travel by plane, train and bus,” and CDC officials had previously indicated that interstate travel was where their existing authority lay. The exact role of the transport department was not immediately clear.
Biden’s election as secretary of transport, Pete Butigig, appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday for a hearing on his nomination. He also pointed to the need to tackle the broad dangers posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Safety is at the heart of the department’s mission and it is taking on a new meaning in the face of this pandemic,” he said in a statement. “We must ensure that all our transport systems – from aviation to public transport, to our railways, roads, ports, waterways and pipelines – are operated safely during this critical period, as we work to eradicate the virus.”
The White House said Thursday that the order “directs the applicable agencies to take immediate action to require the wearing of masks on many planes, trains, seagoing vessels and intercity buses.”
The strategy also calls for more aggressive action by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, including addressing emergency standards for wearing masks and other issues. “Biden is taking steps to cover workers who are not normally covered by OSHA. . . by directing agencies such as the Ministry of Transport to keep workers safe, ”the strategy paper said.
Biden’s pending order “Promoting the safety of COVID-19 in domestic and international travel” will also instruct agencies to “develop opportunities to expand public health measures for domestic and cross-border land and sea travel, and calls for incentives to support and encourage compliance with the CDC guidelines for public transport. “
The CDC has previously outlined the reasons behind its “strong recommendation” to wear masks while traveling.
“Traveling by public transport increases a person’s risk of receiving and spreading COVID-19 by bringing people in close contact with others, often for extended periods,” the CDC said.
“People should wear masks when traveling to, within or outside the United States in vehicles,” the agency said in earlier directions. “Local transmission can quickly escalate into interstate and international transmission when infected people travel on public transport without wearing a mask and with others who do not wear masks.”
Experts in psychology and decision-making have mentioned resistance to the use of masks, including in airplanes, driven by the politicization of the highest levels of US government and beyond, and fueled by erratic messages and the insidious nature of the virus. which can be easily spread by those who do not even know they are infected. Experts say one drawback is the lack of careful testing of public health reports to make sure they are convincing.
Biden White House officials said their strategy would include “world-class public education campaigns” on wearing masks, testing and vaccinations, coordinated at the federal, state and local levels and involving the private sector.
“They will be reinforced by scientific and evidence-based public health guidelines. The administration will work to counter misinformation and misinformation by ensuring that Americans receive scientifically sound information, “the strategy said.