A recent ride on a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus may indicate a level of confusion between driver and passenger regarding what is considered an acceptable facial covering.
Although the “buff” that many Coloradans have used as a face mask since the start of the pandemic has been deemed permissible for the past 10 months, a federal public health order as of Feb. 2 rules otherwise.
“We’ve been requiring a face mask or covering since last April; the difference is some of the things we were allowed previously are no longer allowed: scarves, ski masks, balaclavas or bandannas,” RFTA CEO Dan Blankenship said this week. “And you can’t use your shirt or your sweater to pull it up over your face.”
The stricter requirements follow a presidential executive order last month that resulted in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order mandating masks be worn on all forms of public transportation.
While the facial covering requirement isn’t news to valley residents, passengers heading to and from the ski area being told that their buff — which qualifies as a mask in town and at any of the four mountains — is no longer allowed on the bus has come as a surprise to many.
The CDC website outlines what is and is not permissible: An acceptable mask is considered a solid piece of material without slits, exhalation valves or punctures that is secured to the head with ties, ear loops or elastic bands that go behind the head. While the CDC does not note permissible material types, it does offer: “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). If gaiters are worn, they should have two layers of fabric or be folded to make two layers.”
What’s not allowed? Face shields and masks that are knitted or made from loosely woven fabric or materials that are hard to breathe through, such as vinyl, plastic or leather. Ill-fitting masks — be it too tight or too loose — are also a no-no.
Another added restriction to the public health order is that masks must be worn at “transportation hubs,” such as bus stops and transit stations.
“Masks need to be tightly fitting and people need to have them on covering their noses and their mouths when they’re waiting at bus stops, transit stations and so forth,” Blankenship reiterated. He said RFTA will remind passengers as needed that not complying with the new requirements is a violation of federal law and may subject them to associated penalties.
If a passenger is wearing a mask that fails to meet the aforementioned requirements, drivers are supposed to offer the passenger a blue disposable mask, “which we have a fairly good supply of,” RFTA Communications Manager Jamie Tatsuno said.
That said, passengers should not come to expect or rely on the transit authority to provide masks, she noted.
While RFTA passengers have largely been compliant with the new public health order, of course, there are always exceptions.
Blankenship said the transit authority on Tuesday received added guidance from the Transportation Security Administration as to what constitutes a significant safety concern — and that RFTA is required to report such incidents to the TSA.
Consequently, RFTA reported Tuesday a passenger wearing a knitted gaiter who refused to accept a mask offered by the bus driver. Law enforcement was called and responded to the scene and convinced the passenger to accept the compliant mask. Other disputes between driver and passenger — without involving law enforcement — have also occurred. Plastic shields were recently installed on all of the buses, separating the driver from passengers.
RFTA is working to make the public aware of these changes via its website, social media and signage, Tatsuno said.
Buses are currently running at 50% capacity, which is tracked via an automated system that reports the number of passengers on board.
RFTA supervisors monitor ridership on buses in real time and maintain communication with bus operators via a two-way radio, Blankenship said. When the bus nears or reaches the 50% capacity limit, a supervisor will deploy backup buses as needed to accommodate ridership overflow.