CDC Interim Guidance on Wearing of Masks on Public Transportation

October 20, 2020

On October 19, 2020, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued interim guidance, available here, strongly recommending the “wearing of face masks while on public conveyances and at stations, ports, and similar transportation hubs”.  

The CDC guidance recognizes that traveling by public transportation increases a person’s risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 by “bringing persons in close contact with others, often for prolonged periods, and exposing them to frequently touched surfaces​,” in situations where social distancing is difficult if not impossible.  The CDC also specifically highlighted the increased risk that air transportation poses due to the extended period of time travelers spend in close proximity while waiting in security lines and terminals. The CDC also recognized that intrastate and international travel has promoted the spread of COVID-19 due to travel by infected persons not wearing masks. 

With regard to air transportation, the CDC strongly recommended that appropriate masks be worn by all passengers and by all airline personnel while on an aircraft and within an airport. The CDC also recommended that carriers refuse boarding to anyone not wearing a mask and require all people onboard, whether passengers or airline employees, to wear masks for the duration of travel except in the following circumstances:

  • ​​​for brief periods while eating, drinking, or taking medication;
  • ​if unconscious, incapacitated, unable to be awakened, or otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance; and
  • ​when necessary to temporarily remove the mask to verify one’s identity such as during Transportation Security Administration screening or when asked to do so by the ticket or gate agent or any law enforcement official.

Depending on the circumstances, the CDC recommends that carriers take the following actions:

  • provide information to people purchasing tickets or otherwise booking transportation (in advance or on the day of departure) on the need to wear a mask on the aircraft and that failure to comply will result in denial of boarding. Carriers should provide this information again at the time of boarding;
  • board only those people who wear appropriate masks;
  • monitor the aircraft for any person who does not wear a mask and seek compliance from such person;
  • at the earliest opportunity, disembark any person who refuses to comply; and
  • if possible, have masks available for those passengers who do not have a mask. 

Finally, the CDC advised that mask use may be exempted for the following categories of people:

  • a child under the age of 2 (masks should NOT be worn by children under the age of 2);
  • a person with written instructions from a licensed medical provider to not wear a mask;
  • a person with a disability, mental health condition, or sensory sensitivity that prevents that person from wearing a mask;
  • a person who is hearing impaired, or communicating with someone who is hearing impaired, when the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication;
  • a person for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty as determined by the relevant workplace safety guidelines or federal regulations; and
  • a person operating or essential to operating a conveyance for whom wearing a mask would interfere with that person’s ability to safely operate the conveyance.​

If you have any questions, please contact Evelyn Sahr ( 202-659-6622), Drew Derco ( 202-659-6665), or Andy Orr ( 202-659-6625).

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Evelyn D. Sahr Photo Washington, D.C.

Evelyn D. Sahr

Member - Washington, D.C.

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Drew M. Derco Photo Washington, D.C.

Drew M. Derco

Member - Washington, D.C.

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Andrew P. Orr Photo Washington, D.C.

Andrew P. Orr

Associate - Washington, D.C.

See full bio