Today we confirmed what most folks knew yesterday – the Federal government is extending its transportation mask mandate until at least January 18, 2022.
We also learned that CDC is working to amend its face masks order so that train travelers won’t be required to mask up in “outdoor areas” like train platforms and the like, but until they’ve finished the amendment CDC is going to exercise “enforcement discretion” to not require wearing a mask in rail-related outdoor areas.
The Dept. of Transportation’s National Security Policy and Preparedness Division invited me along with other transportation leaders to a briefing this afternoon “on updated mask requirements” conducted by DOT, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We asked for specifics on what that means for passenger rail and transit, and the briefers said that most of the language in the original January 29, 2021, order will still hold true: masks required on-board trains as well as in stations where passengers are buying tickets or milling around in waiting areas or on platforms that are under cover.
The mask mandate also applies in non-public or work-only areas of railroad property because “they’re on the premises of a transportation hub,” one briefer confirmed.
Asked why it appears the Federal government is singling out transportation, the briefers explained that they’re not – they’re just exercising their authorities in the areas in which they’re able. The head of a major urban transit operator noted that customers are confused when they can sit in a McDonald’s, unmasked, eating, and then be denied boarding on the bus in front of the restaurant because they aren’t wearing a mask.
It’s crucial, he pointed out, that the Federal government messaging explains that transit and public transportation are not somehow more dangerous than other settings. The reality is that the CDC has jurisdiction over transportation, but not in many other public spaces.
All of this is driven by a daily procession of sobering statistics around the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, and the recognition that even those who have been vaccinated can unwittingly infect others who may not be – children, for example, or those with immune-system conditions that prevent vaccination. This is why masks are such a crucial tool in slowing the pandemic.
The rate of U.S. deaths is up 87% during the past 14 days. Hospitalizations nationwide today are higher than any previous peak since the pandemic began in March 2020, except last winter’s. More than 700 deaths are being reported each day, on average, a figure that has more than doubled since the start of August.