Considering new CDC guidance, BEST urges LTD to review face mask requirement

By Rob Zako
May 9, 2022

Considering new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BEST urges the Lane Transit District (LTD) Board of Directors to determine what, if any, face mask requirement is needed to protect public safety.

Source: CDC

If a federal judge rules that the nation’s public health agency does not have the legal authority to compel the use of face masks but that agency nonetheless strongly recommends doing so, what is a public transit agency to do?

On April 18, a federal judge overturned the CDC mandate that public transportation operators require the use of face masks.

The next day, like most public transportation operators, LTD lifted its requirement. In a media release, they explained:

“This is good news for many people, but it is important that we all respect people’s choices to wear a face mask or not,” said Mark Johnson, LTD’s Interim General Manager. “I want to thank all of our passengers and LTD employees for their patience and compliance with the face mask mandate for more than a year. It has been a ‘heavy lift’ for all of us.”

But soon BEST read about about vulnerable riders with underlying conditions dependent on transit:

Riding the bus is a risk for Joanne Daniels-Finegold, but the 69-year-old wheelchair user with asthma, kidney problems and a blood-clotting disorder has no other way to get to the grocery store, her doctor’s office or a weekend job greeting people at a farmers market in suburban Boston.

“If I have to go somewhere, I have no choice,” she said.

Like many medically vulnerable people, Daniels-Finegold now must take that risk without the protection of a mandatory mask policy after a federal judge in Florida voided a nationwide requirement on planes, trains, buses and other modes of public transportation. Over the past week, mask mandates have been revoked on transit systems across the United States, including in places like Boston and D.C. that recently have seen rising case numbers and elevated levels of community spread.

In response, BEST did our own research and consulted with local partners, especially those representing those with mobility disabilities, seniors, and others at greater risk. Although we heard concerns, we were reluctant to raise these with LTD, as we are not experts in public health nor in transit operations.

But on May 3, the CDC issued new guidance:

At this time, CDC recommends that everyone aged 2 and older—including passengers and workers—properly wear a well-fitting mask or respirator over the nose and mouth in indoor areas of public transportation (such as airplanes, trains, etc.) and transportation hubs (such as airports, stations, etc.). When people properly wear a well-fitting mask or respirator, they protect themselves and those around them, and help keep travel and public transportation safer for everyone. Wearing a well-fitting mask or respirator is most beneficial in crowded or poorly ventilated locations, such as airport jetways. We also encourage operators of public transportation and transportation hubs to support mask wearing by all people, including employees.

Previously, the CDC explained:

Traveling on public transportation increases a person’s risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 by bringing people in close contact with others, often for prolonged periods, and exposing them to frequently touched surfaces. … Staying 6 feet away from others is often difficult on public transportation conveyances. People may not be able to distance themselves by the recommended minimum of 6 feet from other people seated nearby or from those standing in or passing through the aisles on airplanes, trains, or buses.

Former LTD board member Ed Necker at age 72 is in the at-risk category for COVID. As he uses a wheelchair, he is dependent on public transit to get around. He explains, “I use a mask, despite the lifting of the mandate. I am concerned, however, about the unmasked around me on the bus. They might be unvaccinated and unaware of their danger to others. I would like to see the face mask requirement reinstated. For everyone’s sake.”

BEST urges the Lane Transit District (LTD) Board of Directors to determine what, if any, face mask requirement is needed to protect public safety.

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