USCG FAQs to the CDC Mask Order (also see CDC FAQs)
On April 18, 2022, the US District Court, Middle District of Florida, vacated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mandate for mask wear in airports, train stations, and other transportation hubs as well as on airplanes, buses, trains, and most other public conveyances in the United States, including vessels. Per this ruling, the CDC has declared that the mandate is no longer in effect.
1. What vessels does the CDC Mask Order apply to?
The CDC mask order applies to all persons traveling on commercial maritime conveyances into, within, or out of the United States and to all persons at U.S. seaports. The term commercial maritime conveyance means all forms of commercial maritime vessels, including but not limited to cargo ships, fishing vessels, research vessels, self-propelled barges, and all forms of passenger carrying vessels including ferries, river cruise ships, and those chartered for fishing trips, unless otherwise exempted.
2. What is the CDC Mask order requiring of vessel operators?
This Order requires conveyance operators to use best efforts to ensure that any person on the conveyance wears a mask when awaiting, boarding, and disembarking the vessel, and for the duration of travel. Depending on the circumstances, best efforts include:
- Boarding only those persons who wear masks;
- Instructing persons that federal law requires wearing a mask on the conveyance and failure to comply constitutes a violation of federal law;
- Monitoring persons onboard the conveyance for anyone who is not wearing a mask and seeking compliance from such persons;
- At the earliest opportunity, disembarking any person who refuses to comply; and
- Providing persons with prominent and adequate notice to facilitate awareness and compliance of the requirement of this Order to wear a mask; best practices may include, if feasible, advanced notifications on digital platforms, such as on apps, websites, or email; posted signage in multiple languages with illustrations; printing the requirement on transit tickets; or other methods as appropriate.
3. Is there an exemption for wearing a mask if a person has a medical condition?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted on page 5 of the CDC Mask order that “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 Disability Act (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.).” Guidance is provided for the conveyance operator on the bottom of page 4, footnote 8, which outlines actions that the conveyance operator may take for persons requesting an exemption and additional guidance can be found on CDC’s website: Federal Register Notice: Wearing of face masks while on conveyances and at transportation hubs and Requirement for Face Masks on Public Transportation Conveyances and at Transportation Hubs, CDC FAQs.
4. Do I need to wear a mask in my stateroom?
CDC guidance states that a mask should be worn when outside of individual cabins. The Coast Guard interprets this as a mask is not required within a private cabin.
5. Do I need to wear a mask while on watch?
The CDC has noted that transportation hub employees do not need to wear a mask if they are the only person in the work area. The Coast Guard interprets this to mean that a mask is not required when one person is not in the same space as another person. As such, if a mariner is alone at their watch station, with no other person in the room with them, then a mask is not required.
6. Do I need to wear a mask while in my personal vehicle on a ferry?
No. The CDC order exempts persons in private conveyances operated solely for personal, non-commercial use. While the vehicle may be on a commercial vessel, the Coast Guard interprets the CDC Order to exempt those inside the private vehicle.
7. Is there a provision to remove the mask while eating?
According to the CDC order, the requirement to wear a mask shall not apply under the following circumstances: While eating, drinking or taking medication for brief periods… The Coast Guard interprets this provision to include passengers or crew while on board.
8. If everyone onboard the vessel is wearing a mask, is social distancing still required?
Yes, a properly worn mask is a reasonable and necessary measure to prevent the introduction, transmission and spread of COVID-19. Wearing a mask is just one tool to protect against COVID-19, social distancing is still required to minimize the chance of exposure.
9. Does this order apply to foreign vessels entering the United States?
Yes. The President’s Executive Order and the CDC order apply to all commercial vessels traveling from foreign ports bound for the United States. All crew and passengers aboard these vessels are reasonably expected to wear a mask during the duration of the transit.
10. What if wearing a mask would create a risk to me while I am working?
Per the CDC Order, page 5: Exceptions are made for a person for whom wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace health, safety, or job duty as determined by the relevant workplace safety guidelines or federal regulations
Vessel or facility operators, owners, or companies should provide clear guidance as to when wearing a mask would create a risk to workplace, health, safety or job duty for crew members and facility personnel. The company guidance should address specific tasks that cannot be accomplished safely while wearing a mask. A blanket policy cannot be issued to exempt all persons from wearing a mask at all times. Crew members and facility personnel may be exempt from wearing a mask only when actively performing the task and should immediately wear a mask when the task is complete. Since passengers should refrain from instances where wearing a mask may present a risk, this exemption does not extend to passengers.
11. What if my company has a quarantine policy prior to embarking the vessel, do I still need to wear a mask?
Yes, the CDC’s Interim Guidance for Ships on Managing Suspected or Confirmed Cases of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) under the Preventative Measures for Persons on Board the Ship requires mariners to “Wear a facemask or cloth face covering when outside of individual cabins.”