Coast Guard Updates, Enhances Mask Requirements

In accordance with President Joe Biden’s executive order of January 21 and a subsequent order issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention titled “Requirement for Persons to Wear Masks while on Conveyances and at Transportation Hubs,” the U.S. Coast Guard updated requirements March 22 for wearing masks aboard U.S. vessels, including ferries and passenger vessels, in a new Marine Safety Information Bulletin (MSIB). It was signed by Rear Adm. Richard V. Timme, Coast Guard assistant commandant for prevention policy.

The MSIB federalizes and spells out what, in many cases, were already common practices aboard vessels. The guidance says that masks must be worn at all times by all personnel, except when performing specific tasks that require mask removal, and for which exemptions may be issued by the captain. Exemptions may be issued only for the specific tasks, after which the mask-wearing must be resumed, and it may not be made into a blanket exemption for the crew.

Other exemptions are made for illness or incapacity, for those 2 years old or younger, or for brief periods of eating, drinking etc. Seaports are included in the requirements, defined as passenger terminals, cargo-handling facilities and other shoreside facilities that provide transportation of persons or cargo.

The MSIB includes a list of best practices to prevent transmission of disease, including:

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• boarding only those who wear masks; 

• instructing people that federal law requires wearing a mask on the conveyance and failure to comply constitutes a violation of federal law; 

• monitoring those on board the conveyance for anyone who is not wearing a mask and seeking compliance from those people; 

• at the earliest opportunity, disembarking any person who refuses to comply; and 

• providing people with prominent and adequate notice to facilitate awareness and compliance of the requirement of the order to wear a mask. Best practices may include notifications on digital platforms, such as on apps, websites or email; posted signage in multiple languages with illustrations; printing the requirement on transit tickets; or other methods as appropriate. 

The MSIB notes that “repeated failure to impose the mask mandate could result in civil and/or criminal enforcement action.”

The MSIB may be viewed here.

The Coast Guard also maintains an FAQ page.

More States Making Vaccines Available

Even as the Coast Guard has enhanced masking regulations, more states are making the coronavirus vaccines available. On March 23, the American Waterways Operators sent members an updated list of states that are stepping up their vaccination efforts. 

In Alaska, Mississippi and West Virginia, anyone older than 16 is already eligible for vaccination. The following maritime states have opened or will soon open vaccination appointments to essential workers, including maritime transportation workers and/or people 16 years of age and older as of March 22: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee and Virginia. In New Jersey, essential workers will be eligible by March 29; in Maryland on April 13; and in Oregon on April 19.

Texas said it would begin open vaccination of all adults beginning March 29. The state of Washington is already vaccinating essential workers in enclosed spaces who cannot maintain social distance, including some crewmembers. 

AWO has developed template letters for member companies to provide to employees verifying their status as an essential critical infrastructure worker or individual who works in a congregated work and living setting. You can find these letters on the Vaccine Resources tab of AWO’s COVID-19 website.