By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, Jan 29 (Reuters) - U.S. agencies have been in talks this week to finalize a planned Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order to implement a federal mask mandate in interstate transportation that could be issued as soon as late Friday.
On Jan. 21, President Joe Biden issued an order directing agencies to "immediately take action" to require masks on or in airports, commercial aircraft, trains, public maritime vessels, including ferries, intercity bus services and all public transportation.
Citing U.S. officials, Reuters reported on Sunday that CDC director Rochelle Walensky was set to sign the transportation mask order on Monday. That signing was pushed back as U.S. agencies raised questions about whether the Biden administration should include exemptions to skip mask use for health reasons.
The order could be signed late Friday or could get pushed to next week, officials told Reuters. A White House spokesman did not comment Friday.
U.S. agencies held extensive discussions throughout the week on the issue. Most U.S. airlines do not allow passengers to avoid wearing masks onboard for health reasons.
U.S. agencies have debated whether to allow exemptions for health reasons and what discretion airlines and other transit modes should have to reject passenger requests to opt out of mask wearing citing health.
The Transportation Security Administration plans to issue security directives to enforce mask requirements, which could result in civil penalties to travelers failing to comply.
A group representing major U.S. airlines has backed Biden's mask requirement.
Airlines for America - which represents American Airlines , Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and others - in a letter this month asked Biden to "allow air carriers to maintain their existing policies and practices which are aimed at de-escalating conflict in-flight and allowing the aircraft to continue while providing a consequential enforcement backstop on the ground."
Federal agencies must submit plans no later than Friday to enforce a separate Biden order requiring masks in all federal building and on all federal lands.
A Jan. 24 White House memo says domestic travel for federal employees "should be limited to only mission critical trips" and occupancy at federal offices should be limited to 25% during "periods of high community prevalence." (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)