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Local leaders support extending federal mask mandate for public transportation

COVID-19 cases are up slightly in Pierce County. Health and transit leaders are reminding the public that masking is a good way to curb the spread of the virus.

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. — The Biden administration has extended the federal mandate for masks on public transit for another two weeks. The move comes as the CDC monitors the spread of the omicron variant of COVID-19, and notes the rise in cases across the country.

In Pierce County, the latest 14-day case rate taken by the county was 73.8 per 100,000. The number is nearly 10% higher than the last two-week period. 

Nigel Turner, Division Director of Communicable Disease Control for the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department, said wearing masks can go a long way in containing the spread of the virus. 

“I think for people to continue to wear masks... in a public setting such as transit, will help reduce transmission,” Turner explained. “It’s something we continue to recommend, and one of the various steps people should be thinking about to control COVID in our community.”

Turner said the county is in a much better place to handle the spread of COVID-19, and he hopes people are remaining vigilant. 

“We have great vaccines that’re broadly available, we have boosters that’re available, we have options for people to get treated,” Turner said. “We have great resources, and I think it’s a good reminder for folks, as we see rates rise elsewhere, of the important things they need to do to protect the health of their families and communities.”

Pierce Transit has several precautions in place to keep employees and customers protected from COVID-19. Riders are given masks, and buses are equipped with barriers to protect the operators.

The public transit service is also experimenting with new technologies to keep the virus from spreading.

“We have a pilot program going on right now, using filters and UV light to clean the air,” said Rebecca Japhet, Communications Manager for Pierce Transit.

The federal mask mandate is helpful for having a consistent set of guidelines across all public transit organizations, Japhet said, which goes a long way to keep riders safe.

“We lean on each other for making sure our messages are consistent, there’s been a lot of signage out there to wear masks,” Japhet said. “It’s been really great to coordinate with our counterparts around the region, by having consistent information.”

Japhet said Pierce Transit will provide masks to anyone who wants to continue wearing a mask while they’re riding, even after the mandate is lifted.


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