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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Biden Orders Domestic and International Travelers to Wear Masks

President Biden has issued an Executive Order – Promoting COVID -19 Safety in Domestic and International Travel – which directs applicable agencies to take immediate action to require mask-wearing on many airplanes, trains, and certain other forms of public transportation in the United States. 

In contrast to former President Trump, Biden has called on governors, public health officials, mayors, business leaders, and others to implement masking, physical distancing, and other CDC public measures to control COVID-19.

Many transportation authorities and industry players have already introduced their own requirements on mask usage, in the absence of the national mandate they had been calling for. Refusal to travel as well as fines have been implemented and these organizations and agencies are to be applauded for their actions to help stop the spread of the virus while keeping the country moving. While full details on the new mandate are yet to be released, the order will make it easier for these transportation providers and others to enforce the requirement, as well as ensuring all regions and travel providers comply.

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA is among those welcoming Biden’s order. President Sara Nelson said it will provide much needed back up for flight attendants and aviation workers on the frontlines. “Masks are vitally important to the health of everyone onboard and an especially necessary safety measure in our workspace where proper social distancing is not an option,” Nelson said. “We look forward to working with the President and his administration on a fulsome plan to address COVID health and safety in aviation including masks, testing, contact tracing, limit contact in onboard service, robust cleaning procedures, and more.”

Given the proven effectiveness of mask use in other countries that have been hit hard by the pandemic, it is perhaps surprising that other parts of the world have been reluctant and even politicized masks. Some of the scepticism we still see today arose due to confused and conflicting messages on mask use at the start of the pandemic. The past year has resulted in many deaths. It has also resulted in more research which has given us a much better understanding on how masks can help in the fight against COVID-19.

CDC and the World Health Organization have issued effectiveness data on three different types of masks: cloth, disposable surgical, and respirator or N95 masks. They say that cloth masks can offer between 26% and 80% efficacy depending on the type of fabric, fit, and number of layers (three layers is considered to be best). The disposable surgical masks are slightly more effective, CDC and WHO say, whereas the N95 masks are seen as the gold standard. These are not only highly effective at protecting others but also protect the wearer, being 95% effective at blocking small and large particles. The key component in these masks is the electrostatic filter. There has been some trepidation that loudly recommending the most effective masks for every citizen will cause a supply shortage for those on the frontline who most need them, and WHO and CDC therefore remind citizens that these masks are best left for healthcare workers and those in other high-risk environments.

In addition to the mask mandate, Biden has also ordered that all travelers, including U.S. citizens, will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test before entering the United States from overseas, underscoring the previously announced CDC policy. The travel policies are just part of the new President’s COVID-19 strategy.

Kylie Bielby
Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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