Order: Wearing of face masks while on conveyances and at transportation hubs -- Disability Exemptions
Guidance for conveyance operators and travelers on public transportation conveyances and at transportation hubs
Issued by: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Issue Date: March 23, 2021
Order: Wearing of face masks while on conveyances and at transportation hubs
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an Order pdf icon[PDF – 11 pages] on January 29, 2021 requiring the wearing of masks by travelers to prevent spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Conveyance operators must also require all persons onboard to wear masks when boarding, disembarking, and for the duration of travel. Operators of transportation hubs must require all persons to wear a mask when entering or on the premises of a transportation hub.
This Order must be followed by all passengers on public conveyances (e.g., airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, ride-shares) traveling into, within, or out of the United States as well as conveyance operators (e.g., crew, drivers, conductors, and other workers involved in the operation of conveyances) and operators of transportation hubs ( e.g., airports, bus or ferry terminals, train or subway stations, seaports, ports of entry) or any other area that provides transportation in the United States.
People must wear masks that cover both the mouth and nose when awaiting, boarding, traveling on, or disembarking public conveyances. People must also wear masks when entering or on the premises of a transportation hub in the United States.
For frequently asked questions, visit the FAQs.
The following are attributes of masks needed to fulfill the requirements of the Order. CDC will update this guidance as needed.
- A properly worn mask completely covers the nose and mouth.
- Cloth masks should be made with two or more layers of a breathable fabric that is tightly woven (i.e., fabrics that do not let light pass through when held up to a light source).
- Mask should be secured to the head with ties, ear loops, or elastic bands that go behind the head. If gaiters are worn, they should have two layers of fabric or be folded to make two layers.
- Mask should fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face.
- Mask should be a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves, or punctures.
The following attributes are additionally acceptable as long as masks meet the requirements above.
- Masks can be either manufactured or homemade.
- Masks can be reusable or disposable.
- Masks can have inner filter pockets.
- Clear masks or cloth masks with a clear plastic panel may be used to facilitate communication with people who are hearing impaired or others who need to see a speaker’s mouth to understand speech.
- Medical masks and N-95 respirators fulfill the requirements of the Order.
The following do not fulfill the requirements of the Order.
- Masks worn in a way that does not cover both the mouth and nose
- Face shields or goggles (face shields or goggles may be worn to supplement a mask that meets above required attributes)
- Scarves, ski masks, balaclavas, or bandannas
- Shirt or sweater collars (e.g., turtleneck collars) pulled up over the mouth and nose.
- Masks made from loosely woven fabric or that are knitted, i.e., fabrics that let light pass through
- Masks made from materials that are hard to breathe through (such as vinyl, plastic or leather)
- Masks containing slits, exhalation valves, or punctures
- Masks that do not fit properly (large gaps, too loose or too tight)
Additional guidance on the use of masks to slow the spread of COVID-19 is available on CDC’s website.
Who is covered by the exemption for “a person with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, because of the disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Actexternal icon (ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.)”?
Most people, including those with disabilities, can tolerate and safely wear a mask and are required to wear one as per CDC’s Order. However, certain people with disabilities who, because of their disability, cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask, are exempted from CDC’s mask-wearing requirement.
The exemption is not meant to cover people with disabilities for whom wearing a mask might only be difficult or whose disability does not prevent them from wearing a mask or wearing a mask safely.
The following narrow subset of persons with disabilities are exempt from CDC’s requirement to wear a mask:
- A person with a disability who, for reasons related to the disability, would be physically unable to remove a mask without assistance if breathing becomes obstructed. Examples might include a person with impaired motor skills, quadriplegia, or limb restrictions
- A person with an intellectual, developmental, cognitive, or psychiatric disability that affects the person’s ability to understand the need to remove a mask if breathing becomes obstructed
The following persons with disabilities might be exempt from CDC’s requirement to wear a mask based on factors specific to the person:
- A person with a disability who cannot wear a mask because it would cause the person to be unable to breathe or have respiratory distress if a mask were worn over the mouth and nose. A person with a condition that causes intermittent respiratory distress, such as asthma, likely does not qualify for this exemption because people with asthma, or other similar conditions, can generally wear a mask safely.
- A person with a disability requiring the use of an assistive device, such as for mobility or communication, that prevents the person from wearing a mask and wearing or using the assistive device at the same time. If use of the device is intermittent and the person can remove the mask independently to use the device, then a mask must be worn during periods when the person is not using the device.
- A person with a severe sensory disability or a severe mental health disability who would pose an imminent threat of harm to themselves or others if required to wear a mask. Persons who experience discomfort or anxiety while wearing a mask without imminent threat of harm would not qualify for this exemption.
How can operators facilitate safer transportation where a passenger is a person with a disability who is exempt from the requirement to wear a mask?
Operators of conveyances or transportation hubs should consider providing options for additional protective measures that improve the ability of the people who are subject to the exemption to maintain social distance (separation from others by at least 6 feet/2 meters [about 2 arm lengths]). Examples include—
- If travel is pre-scheduled, schedule travel for people who are exempt at less crowded times or on less crowded conveyances.
- Seat or otherwise situate the person in a less crowded section of the conveyance or transportation hub.
- Inform people with disabilities who cannot wear a mask safely that these additional measures might be taken to facilitate safer transportation.
All people should consider the necessity of using public transportation, especially those with disabilities or underlying conditions that may place them at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Disability alone may not be related to higher risk for getting COVID-19 or having severe illness. Most people with disabilities are not inherently at higher risk for becoming infected with or having severe illness from COVID-19. However, some people with disabilities might be at a higher risk of infection or severe illness, at least in part because of their underlying medical conditions.
People with disabilities should talk with their healthcare providers if they have questions about their health or how their health conditions are being managed.
While this guidance uses the ADA’s definition of disability, it does not address other ADA provisions that may be pertinent to issues involving the use of masks.
HHS is committed to making its websites and documents accessible to the widest possible audience, including individuals with disabilities. We are in the process of retroactively making some documents accessible. If you need assistance accessing an accessible version of this document, please reach out to the Section 508 Help Desk.
DISCLAIMER: The contents of this database lack the force and effect of law, except as authorized by law (including Medicare Advantage Rate Announcements and Advance Notices) or as specifically incorporated into a contract. The Department may not cite, use, or rely on any guidance that is not posted on the guidance repository, except to establish historical facts.