Biden issues executive order on mask-wearing

Biden Inauguration
President Joe Biden speaks during the 59th Presidential Inauguration at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden, on his first day in the Oval Office, signed an Executive Order designed to protect the Federal workforce from the coronavirus and encourage all Americans to wear masks and observe public health safety measures.

“Put simply, masks and other public health measures reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when communities make widespread use of such measures, and thus save lives,” reads the Executive Order.

Heads of federal departments and agencies are asked to take immediate action to require compliance with CDC guidelines in regards to mask wearing and social distancing by federal employees, contractors, and all persons in federal buildings or on federal lands. Agency heads may make categorical or case-by-case exceptions – in writing – to implement those requirements where required by law. The Secretary of Health and Human Services will develop a plan for testing of the federal workforce, based on metrics like community transmission.

It also establishes a Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, geared towards providing ongoing guidance to heads of agencies on the operation of the Federal Government, the safety of its employees, and the continuity of Government functions during the COVID-19 pandemic, based on CDC and other public health expert guidance. Contact tracing, equipment needs, vaccine prioritization, and infrastructure are among the subjects the Task Force will advise on.

The Federal workforce is not the only focus of the order. The Secretary of HHS and Director of the CDC will be working with state, local, tribal, and territorial officials, as well as business, academic, and community leaders, to encourage mask wearing, “with the goal of maximizing public compliance with, and addressing any obstacles to, mask-wearing and other public health best practices identified by the CDC.”

“The COVID-19 Response Coordinator, in coordination with the Secretary of HHS, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the heads of other relevant agencies, shall promptly identify and inform agencies of options to incentivize, support, and encourage widespread mask-wearing consistent with CDC guidelines and applicable law,” reads section three (b).

Biden had said back in early December that one of his first acts as president would be to call on all Americans to commit to 100 days of mask-wearing.

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