The White House has blocked an effort to require face masks on all forms of US commercial and public transportation, the New York Times reports. Two federal health officials say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote up an extensive order last month that would have forced all workers and passengers to don masks on all US commercial and public transportation—but a coronavirus task force led by Mike Pence refused to even talk about it. With Americans testing positive at a rate of over 40,000 per day, the order would have required masks on subways, buses, trains, airplanes, and at transit destinations like bus depots, train stations, and airports. It would have been the strongest US federal mandate targeting the virus so far.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar II supported it, but a task force official argued for letting states and localities to decide: "The approach the task force has taken with any mask mandate is, the response in New York City is different than Montana, or Tuscaloosa, Alabama," the official said. But Robert Redfield, head of the CDC, argues that "masks are the most powerful weapon we have to confront COVID and we all need to embrace masks and set the example for each other." In a similar confrontation last month, the White House Coronavirus Task Force stopped the CDC from keeping cruise ships off the waters until mid-February. And the Department of Transportation threw out a labor union petition Friday calling for passengers on DOT-approved transportation to wear masks, per the Hill. (Read more face masks stories.)