WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday recommended in newly issued guidelines that all passengers and workers on planes, trains, buses and other public transportation wear masks to control spread of the novel coronavirus.

The guidance was issued amid pressure from the airline industry, surging cases of the coronavirus in the United States and strong evidence on the effectiveness of masks in curbing transmission, according to CDC officials.

The recommendations fall short of what transportation industry leaders and unions had sought.


Travelers check in at a United Airlines kiosk with help from a United employee in the main terminal of Denver International Airport this month in Denver. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has strengthened its guidance on wearing masks on all mass and public transportation. David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The CDC had previously drafted an order under the agency’s quarantine powers that would have required all passengers and employees to wear masks on all forms of public transportation, according to a CDC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Such orders typically carry penalties. The order was blocked by the White House, the official said. It was first reported by The New York Times.

Monday’s recommendation followed a request from Vice President Mike Pence to CDC Director Robert Redfield, CDC officials said.

Although the agency already recommends the use of face masks generally, the new language is more strongly worded and gives the airline industry more cover to press for mask-wearing, one CDC official said.

In a statement Monday, the agency said “transmission of the virus through travel has led to – and continues to lead to – interstate and international spread of the virus.” It added: “Local transmission can grow quickly into interstate and international transmission when infected persons travel on public conveyances without wearing a mask and with others who are not wearing masks.”

Traveling on airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares and in locations such as airports, train stations and bus or ferry terminals increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. That can happen because people are brought into close contact with others, often for prolonged periods, and because they can be exposed to frequently touched surfaces, the CDC guidance says.

“Face masks help prevent people who have COVID-19, including those who are pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, from spreading the virus to others,” the CDC guidelines say. “Masks are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings.”

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