Marty Cetron, director for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, defended the health agency’s federal mask mandate on Thursday, describing masks as a “powerful” part of their “arsenal.”
Speaking to Reuters, Cetron reiterated that the agency’s “current position” is to keep the federal mask mandate, which requires travelers to wear masks on modes of public transportation, including planes and trains, despite mounting calls from lawmakers to end the practice.
“Masks are really powerful and we should make sure they’re part of our arsenal,” Cetron said. “We mask not just to protect ourselves – we mask because it’s the way we take care and express our concern for each other.”
The CDC official attempted to attribute the standing mandate as a means to protect the unvaccinated, describing them as “extremely vulnerable.”
“I get we’re all just over this emotionally but I do think we will succeed together if we realize the virus is the enemy and it’s not your fellow citizen or the person sitting next to you on a plane or a piece of cloth that you have to wear over your face,” Cetron said, dismissing looming concerns.
“As long as the CDC order is in place, the expectation is the implementing modes … would continue with their own directives,” he continued, adding the agency “won’t wait until September to reevaluate,” as it constantly assesses the situation.
“If the pandemic were to suddenly disappear before then we have the ability to take down the order,” he added.
The CDC followed the Biden administration’s lead and released an order this year “requiring the wearing of masks by people on public transportation conveyances or on the premises of transportation hubs to prevent spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus].” It went into effect on February 1, and the TSA extended its mask requirement until September 13.
Republican lawmakers, led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), are calling on the federal health officials to take action and lift the federal mask requirement. This week, Paul introduced the Travel Mask Mandate Repeal Act of 2021, which would bar federal agencies from imposing mask mandates on modes of public transportation.
“The federal government forcing the American people to continue to wear masks despite the fact that we’ve already reached herd immunity is ridiculous and needs to end immediately,” Paul said in a statement, announcing his proposal.
“In a free country people will evaluate their personal risk factors and are smart enough to ultimately make medical decisions like wearing a mask themselves,” he added, prompting support from fellow GOP colleagues.
“Mask mandates have outlived their usefulness, yet they remain in effect on flights and other modes of public transportation,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said in a statement, adding that the policy “discourages family travel and forces Americans with children — especially those with disabilities — to cancel travel or else live in fear that an untimely tantrum or bad day could ruin their trip and cost them more than a thousand dollars in fines.”