DOT will distribute almost 100 million face masks across the transportation sector

Jun 14, 2020

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The U.S. Department of Transportation will distribute around 100 million cloth face masks to travelers and employees across the aviation, transit and passenger rail industries. The agency announced the move in a press release on Friday.

DOT’s campaign comes as amid growing calls across the transportation sector for the department to institute a universal federal policy that would require passengers to wear masks while traveling. The department has resisted those calls so far, preferring to allow individual companies and operators to institute their own policies.

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The DOT said that distributing cloth masks will help make travelers feel safer, and will encourage people to resume travel this summer.

“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,” DOT secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a statement.

Related: Airlines are increasingly requiring health checks before flying. Alaska is the latest.

Demand for travel has reached historic lows as a result of restrictive stay-at-home orders across the country, coupled with a public that fears contracting the deadly COVID-19 virus. The stay-at-home orders are beginning to lift, but travel numbers have been slow to recover.

While distributing 100 million masks may sound like a huge effort, the DOT said in its own announcement that the program is meant to be limited.

“Passengers are still responsible for having their own facial covering per existing guidance from airlines, airports, transit agencies, and passenger rail authorities. The cloth facial coverings announced today are intended to be supplemental. Availability at these locations is not guaranteed,” the press release said.

Read more: Comparing premium transcon flights in the age of coronavirus

In the absence of a federal rule or a comprehensive mask distribution program, airlines and other travel companies have taken it upon themselves to provide PPE to their customers, and attempt as much as possible to enforce their own public health policies.

Featured photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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