The US government plans to distribute 96 million cloth face coverings for free to people riding on planes, trains and public transportation systems.
The Transportation Department said Friday it will provide 86.8 million masks to airports and 9.6 million to 458 transit agencies and Amtrak.
“This Administration is committed to protecting our people and reopening the economy,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a press release. “Distributing these facial coverings will help boost public confidence as we begin to resume our normal lives.”
Airline and transit operations have seen dramatic reductions in use by the public in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. People are beginning to return to travel, but the levels are still far below a year ago.
On Thursday, 502,209 people went through Transportation Security Administration airport screening, the most since March 21, according to the agency. That represents about 19% of the equivalent day a year ago.
Most airlines and transit systems already require masks, though enforcement has been spotty.
The Transportation Department is working with the Health and Human Services Department, it said in a press release. The cloth coverings were obtained by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will be distributed in the coming weeks.
Travelers are “still responsible for having their own facial covering” in situations in which it is required, the DOT said. The government’s supply is intended to be supplemental and availability is not guaranteed.
Workers in the transportation sector have been vulnerable to the disease. The Transportation Security Administration said 667 of its employees have tested positive for Covid-19, including five who have died.
Because airlines and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention haven’t agreed on a system to trace passengers who have flown with ill people, it’s not clear how many have been infected by air travel.
A second wave of infections by the novel coronavirus appears underway in the US The case load is slowly growing nationally, while it rages in local hot spots, with wide differences in infection rates even within states.
Texas, California, Florida and Alabama all are among states where infections and hospitalizations are hitting new highs.