“This Administration is committed to protecting our people and reopening the economy; distributing these facial coverings will help boost public confidence as we begin to resume our normal lives,” Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a news release announcing the program.
The announcement came on the same day that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “strongly encouraged” organizers of large gatherings to tell participants to wear cloth face coverings when at such events. CDC officials also reiterated the need for people to continue to wash their hands, keep six feet from others and wear face coverings.
The use of masks in transit settings is particularly important given the mix of people who use public transportation, travel on Amtrak or fly.
A number of agencies, including the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service have been working to make face coverings available to the traveling public.
Many transit agencies, including the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, require passengers to wear face coverings when taking public transit. Amtrak began requiring passengers to wear masks in May. U.S. airlines also now require passengers to wear masks when on board the plane, though some recent travelers say people do not always abide by the rule.
Officials at Reagan National and Washington Dulles International airports, which began requiring visitors to wear masks, said they received 129,500 face coverings from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for essential employees and 2 million from the Federal Aviation Authority to be provided to passengers.
Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for Baltimore Washington International Marshall Airport said it received 1.2 million cloth facial coverings through the program on Thursday.
Officials at Metro said while they only just learned of the program, they support any effort that helps reduce the spread of covid-19.
“Metro customers have embraced the use of cloth face coverings or masks, with nearly everyone you see on the system wearing one and very few exceptions over the past several months,” the transit agency said in an emailed statement. “We only learned of this initiative today, so we don’t have a lot of details to offer. But as a general matter, anything that helps to keep our customers and front-line colleagues safe by reducing the spread of Covid-19 is a good thing. In the meantime, we would underscore that customers using Metro for essential travel needs should continue to provide their own face coverings until we learn more.”
This latest batch of nearly 100 million cloth facial coverings is in addition to 15 million that were previously provided for front-line transportation workers.
Federal officials emphasized that members of the public are still responsible for providing their own masks if one is required by their transit agency, airline or airport since they cannot guarantee every airport or transit agency will be able to provide one.