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Mask mandate nothing new for Las Vegas area transportation agencies

Local transportation agencies say a federal mask mandate that went into effect late Monday night doesn’t change much as far as enforcement goes.

Late Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a sweeping order requiring the use of face masks on nearly all forms of public transportation.

The CDC order came on the heels of President Joe Biden directing government agencies to “immediately take action” to implement a mask mandate.

The CDC’s order states the mask must cover the nose and mouth of a person and that face shields aren’t adequate enough to be worn on their own.

All modes of transportation were cited by the CDC from airplanes, trains, buses, taxicabs and ride hailing companies, to transportation hubs like airports and bus terminals.

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada said it already has been requiring passengers and staff to wear masks aboard its buses in the Las Vegas Valley, following Gov. Steve Sisolak’s mandate this past summer.

“With the federal mask mandate in effect today, we remain committed to reminding and enforcing mask usage on our vehicles and in our facilities,” said Angela Castro, RTC spokeswoman. “The federal mandate does not change our existing enforcement policy and processes requiring our passengers, staff and contractors to wear face coverings aboard our vehicles and when on RTC property.”

The federal mandate makes two critical changes. Under the state mandate, children age 9 and younger were not required to wear face masks. The federal order lowers that to 2 years of age or younger.

Additionally, scarves, ski masks, balaclavas or bandannas are no longer approved forms of face coverings under the federal mandate.

Since the pandemic’s effects began to be felt in Las Vegas in late March, the RTC has spent $14 million to support and promote the safety of its drivers and passengers.

If a customer enters an RTC facility or bus without a mask, a security officer will offer the person a mask. If an officer is not present, one will be dispatched to the facility or the next bus stop to assist the driver with enforcing the mask mandate.

If a customer refuses to wear a mask and does not state they have a medical condition or they can’t wear a mask, officers may refuse them to ride on a bus or enter the facility.

If a passenger removes their mask after entering an RTC vehicle, the operator will continue to adhere to safety on the road and call dispatch to send an officer for support.

The RTC has distributed over 9,000 masks to the public to date, Castro said.

Last month, the RTC received 45 mask complaints during a time the system’s ridership clocked 1.97 million passengers.

Amid the pandemic, RTC increased its officer to bus ratio from one officer per nine buses to one officer per six buses. That is above the national average of a transit system of comparable size of one officer per 15 buses, Castro noted.

Taxis and ride hailing companies

Teri Williams, spokeswoman for both the Nevada Taxicab Authority and the Nevada Transportation Authority, said taxicab companies and ride hailing companies such as Lyft and Uber have already been mandating mask wearing for drivers and passengers.

“There will be no operational or policy change needed,” Williams said.

Both Lyft and Uber introduced strict mask guidelines last year that allow both passengers and drivers to report if the other isn’t wearing a mask. If a driver or passenger is a repeat offender, they could have their accounts suspended or be banned permanently.

McCarran continues enforcement

Although McCarran has been mandating masks be worn due to the state order last year, messaging will be updated to reflect the federal ban, according to Chris Jones, McCarran spokesman.

Airport officials regulate the mask policy as best as they can, but with up to 80,000 travelers per day at the airport, Jones said it’s unrealistic to think that every person who disobeys the mandate will be addressed.

“We do our best to enforce the mandate, though the idea that there’s someone who will immediately tap a guy on the shoulder the moment he removes his mask is an unrealistic notion, no more than one could expect a police officer to pull someone over each time a driver breaks the speed limit,” Jones said.

Anyone observing someone not wearing a mask at McCarran can alert an airport employee to have them address the traveler, Jones said. Although uncommon, a Metropolitan Police officer can be dispatched if a traveler refuses to wear a mask after an airport employee has offered one.

The Transportation Security Administration noted the federal mandate going into effect, with spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein taking to Twitter to caution travelers about possible repercussion if the mandate isn’t followed.

“Starting Feb. 2, air travelers without masks may be denied entry through the TSA checkpoint, boarding the aircraft or continued transport,” Farbstein’s tweet read. “Failure to comply with the mask requirement can also result in civil penalties.”

As of Monday, 165 TSA employees at McCarran had tested positive for coronavirus, while nationwide that number was at 6,368, with 14 deaths, according to the agency’s data.

Travelers are still required to pull their mask down when providing identification at a TSA checkpoint, although the agency is considering changes to the screening process, which would limit physical interaction at checkpoints, a tweet by one of the TSA’s accounts read.

All major airlines also require passengers to wear masks while they board a plane, during a flight and while disembarking.

Jones noted that mask wearing is only one part of the airport’s safety approach as social distancing, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting policies are also important steps to ensuring travel is safe through McCarran.

Although social distancing is recommended at McCarran, with signage and announcements throughout the airport, Jones said crowding still does occur during peak times, especially with some areas of the airport shutdown.

“Concourses are closed for renovations or cost-containment measures while our numbers are down, which means there won’t always be an open seat in the hold rooms while waiting to board a flight, or there may be lines at some of the eateries,” Jones said. “That’s why masks are so important — social distancing is not always an option, whether in the terminal or seated next to someone while on a plane. If someone truly isn’t comfortable being around other people right now, they probably should reconsider how willing are they to actually fly at this time.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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