An Executive Order entitled ‘Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing’ was executed by President Biden on Jan. 20, 2021. The Order, which is a component of “Goal 3” in the 200-page Biden-Harris National Strategy, makes it a federal crime to not wear a mask on public transportation. It also makes it mandatory for all on-duty or on-site Federal employees, on-site Federal contractors, and other individuals on Federal lands or Federal buildings to wear a mask, maintain physical distance, and adhere to other public health measures, as provided in CDC guidelines

The National Strategy

The EO is one small part of the Biden-Harris National Strategy, which significantly expands the U.S. pandemic response globally and is funded by Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion virus relief legislation. It has 7 main sections:

  1. Restore trust with the American people by establishing a national COVID-19 response structure where decision-making is driven by science and equity, including across racial, ethnic, and rural/urban lines.
  2. Mount a safe, effective, equitable vaccination campaign directing the initial actions necessary to convert vaccines into vaccinations, including improving allocation, distribution, tracking, and support to state governments.
  3. Mitigate spread through expanding masking, testing, treatment, data, workforce, and clear public health standards by creating United States Public Health Workforce Program.
  4. Immediately expand emergency relief by strengthening the pandemic supply chain; directing immediate action to use all available legal authorities, including the Defense Production Act for PPE, testing supplies, and supplies for vaccination, and increasing federal reimbursement for states to 100% for National Guard personnel and emergency supplies, including for schools.
  5. Safely reopen schools, businesses, and travel while protecting workers by giving them the tools and resources to reopen.
  6. Protect those most at risk and advance equity, including across racial, ethnic, and rural/urban lines, by directing immediate steps to identify and address COVID-19 related health inequities and to establish the White House COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to address racial disparities.
  7. Restore U.S. leadership globally and build better preparedness for future threats by directing actions to re-engage with and seek to strengthen and reform the World Health Organization (WHO), restore a strong U.S. role in the global COVID-19 response, and advance global health security and international institutions to prevent, detect, and respond to future biological catastrophes
The Executive Board of the World Health Organization is composed of 34 technically qualified members elected for three-year terms. The annual Board meeting is held in January when the members agree upon the agenda for the World Health Assembly and the resolutions to be considered by the Health Assembly. A second shorter meeting takes place in May, as a follow-up to the Health Assembly. The main functions of the Board are to implement the decisions and policies of the Health Assembly and advise and generally to facilitate its work.

Insight Into Goal 7 of The National Strategy

The National Strategy emphasizes that the U.S. will work with other countries to restore its role in preventing, detecting, and responding to global crises, advancing the Global Health Security Agenda, and building resilience for future epidemics and pandemics. On Jan. 21, President Biden sent Chief Medical Advisor and NIAID Director Dr. Anthony Fauci to deliver a message to the WHO (the second-largest funder of the WHO, after the U.S., is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) stating that in 2021, the U.S. will work with the WHO to effectively achieve its goal of improving health and global health security.

The National Strategy also states the U.S. will support global vaccine distribution and research and development for COVID-19 treatments, tests, and vaccines. The United States will support the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator and join the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility as well as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance

The National Strategy will seek to strengthen other existing multilateral initiatives, such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which was founded in Davos by the governments of Norway and India, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (whose philanthropy spans the globe, including China), Wellcome, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, and the World Economic Forum. On Jan. 15, 2020, the WEF published The Global Risks Report 2020, a comprehensive presentation on the major risks the world will be facing in the coming year. The report’s academic advisors are the National University of Singapore Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, and the University of Pennsylvania, where President Biden has longstanding ties.

The National Strategy explains that the U.S. will build better bio-preparedness and expand resilience for biological threats which are increasing and accelerating due to various trends, including zoonotic diseases that spill over to humans; a changing climate; and advances in technology that make it easier, cheaper and faster to make and modify dangerous agents. The plan says that “During the Biden-Harris Administration, it is likely that other biological events—including the potential for another high consequence or pandemic event—will occur both in the U.S. and globally for years even after the introduction of a safe and effective vaccine and the United States must strengthen its capacity to counter potentially catastrophic biological events swiftly. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to strengthening preparedness and the capacity to counter COVID-19 and future biological threats.” On January 20, President Biden restored the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense established by the Obama-Biden Administration. 

Recent Orders from the CDC and TSA

Aside from Biden’s Executive Order, the CDC issued a comprehensive 11-page order late Friday that took effect on Feb. 1, requiring the use of face masks on nearly all forms of public transportation Monday, as well as COVID-19 testing requirements for international travel (there are new guidelines from TSA as well) into the United States. The order requires face masks to be worn by all travelers on airplanes, ships, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares and at transportation hubs like airports, bus or ferry terminals, train and subway stations, and seaports.

The following are attributes of masks needed to fulfill the requirements of the Order. CDC will update this guidance as needed.

  • A properly worn mask completely covers the nose and mouth.
  • Cloth masks should be made with two or more layers of a breathable fabric that is tightly woven (i.e., fabrics that do not let light pass through when held up to a light source).
  • Mask should be secured to the head with ties, ear loops, or elastic bands that go behind the head. If gaiters are worn, they should have two layers of fabric or be folded to make two layers.
  • Mask should fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face.
  • Mask should be a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves, or punctures.

The following attributes are additionally acceptable as long as masks meet the requirements above.

  • Masks can be either manufactured or homemade.
  • Masks can be reusable or disposable.
  • Masks can have inner filter pockets.
  • Clear masks or cloth masks with a clear plastic panel may be used to facilitate communication with people who are hearing impaired or others who need to see a speaker’s mouth to understand speech.
  • Medical masks and N-95 respirators fulfill the requirements of the Order.

The following do not fulfill the requirements of the Order.

  • Masks worn in a way that does not cover both the mouth and nose
  • Face shields or goggles (face shields or goggles may be worn to supplement a mask that meets above required attributes)
  • Scarves, ski masks, balaclavas, or bandannas
  • Shirt or sweater collars (e.g., turtleneck collars) pulled up over the mouth and nose.
  • Masks made from loosely woven fabric or that are knitted, i.e., fabrics that let light pass-through
  • Masks made from materials that are hard to breathe through (such as vinyl, plastic or leather)
  • Masks containing slits, exhalation valves, or punctures
  • Masks that do not fit properly (large gaps, too loose or too tight)

The CDC lists additional information on the use of masks and stopping the spread of COVID-19 on their on their website.