“The only controversy surrounding masks is a dangerous political one manufactured by President Trump,” they wrote.
House Democrats are imploring the Transportation Security Administration to require travelers to wear masks as they go through airport security checkpoints to protect frontline workers and others from contracting the coronavirus.
As air travel slowly rebounds, Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Lou Correa, D-Calif., chairman of the Transportation and Maritime Security Subcommittee, wrote to TSA Administrator David Pekoske on Monday about the need for more federal leadership as the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb across the United States. They noted that almost 1,000 TSA employees have tested positive for the virus and seven employees and contractors have died; health experts say the situation could get much worse.
“We were pleased to see you fulfill part of that request when you announced on May 7th a requirement for TSA employees to wear masks. However, it is difficult to understand your hesitation to issue a national requirement for passenger masks to ensure that all frontline workers and passengers are equally protected across the aviation system,” they wrote. Also, they noted the joint guidance the Homeland Security, Transportation, and Health and Human Service departments issued to the airline industry last week was a good first step, yet “fails to provide the federal leadership and mandates needed to help stabilize the industry and keep people safe.”
A mask requirement should not be controversial, and even if some members of the public balk at such an order, TSA is no stranger to asking people to submit to unpleasant experiences, the lawmakers noted. "The only controversy surrounding masks is a dangerous political one manufactured by President Trump and his enablers. There is a clear consensus among public health officials that masks are effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19," they wrote. “TSA employees routinely enforce a number of requirements that are unpopular with the public, such as conducting invasive pat-downs and confiscating liquids, which you and your predecessors have deemed necessary to protect passengers.”
Last month, TSA implied that the reason it has not initiated such a requirement was because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have only recommended the use of masks, not required them. “Surely, though, TSA is able to clearly delineate its authority and responsibility over security checkpoints, where abiding by CDC recommendations for appropriate social distancing is not always possible,” they wrote, adding that TSA must take responsibility for its employees and travelers.
As the number of new coronavirus cases grows and in the absence of a national contact tracing program, a mask requirement is extremely important, the lawmakers said. While various House and Senate lawmakers have proposed making masks mandatory in public, the White House’s reopening guidelines put the responsibility on states.
TSA said it received the letter and will respond directly to the committee.