Biden Prioritizes Mask Mandates for National Parks, Interstate Travel

Joe Biden

Hours after he was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, Joe Biden immediately started his mission to help curb the coronavirus pandemic by implementing new mask mandates on federal property and for interstate travel.

On Wednesday, he signed an executive order requiring both federal employees as well as visitors to "wear masks, maintain physical distance" and adhere to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while on federal lands. This will apply to everywhere from national parks to federal monuments like the Statue of Liberty in New York.

Previously, NPR reported masks had been encouraged at national parks, but not required.

"It is the policy of my Administration to halt the spread of coronavirus… by relying on the best available data and science-based public health measures," Biden wrote in his executive order. "Put simply, masks and other public health measures reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when communities make widespread use of such measures, and thus save lives."

On Thursday, Biden plans to require anyone in an airport or on public transportation — such as an aircraft — to wear a mask, Reuters reported, something he pledged to do during his campaign. While U.S. airlines and train lines like Amtrak have made mask-wearing mandatory on an individual basis, there has been no federal mandate on the subject up until now. 

"As president I will mandate mask wearing in all federal buildings and all interstate transportation because masks save lives – period," the president previously said in October. "Wearing masks is not a political statement, it is a scientific imperative."

The subject has recently reached a fever pitch with the FAA vowing to crack down on unruly passengers following the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot at the Capitol Building and a spate of related onboard incidents. Any passengers who assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with airline crew members could now face a fine as well as jail time, including for those who refuse to wear masks.

Earlier this month, for example, a woman was arrested on a flight from Charlotte, N.C. to Washington, D.C. after she took her face mask off mid-flight to yell at her fellow passengers. And in a separate incident, Alaska Airlines banned 14 passengers who refused to wear their masks while traveling from the nation's capital to Seattle. 

Many airlines have been forced to ban passengers from flying with their airline over mask violations, but those bans don't stop that customer from booking with another carrier.

For its part, Amtrak (a longtime favorite of Biden's) has required employees and customers to wear masks for months, and allows passengers to see how full a train is before they book to ensure social distancing.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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