An amendment offered by Sen. J.D. Vance, which would prohibit funds appropriated for the Department of Transportation from being used to enforce a mask mandate in response to the Covid-19 virus, passed the Senate, 59-38, with Alaska’s two senators voting in favor of the amendment.
Although the measure passed on a bipartisan basis, all of the senators voting against the amendment it were Democrats. But it’s notable that there was a split in the Democrats, with many crossing over to support the amendment.
Mask mandates in transportation were part of the federal response to Covid-19, and impacted airline travel, as well as travel in trains, buses, and taxis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still says mask mandates are effective in curtailing the spread of the Covid-19 virus, although many health advocates question whether the benefits are worth the enforced regulations, citing personal breathing problems, behavioral issues, and mental health deterioration stemming from the forced wearing of masks.
In January 2021 the CDC mandated that travelers on all public transportation hubs wear masks, in response to President Joe Biden’s executive order mandating them for any and all interstate travel.
The mask mandate extended to all manner of transportation, including those aboard fishing boats in Alaska. In 2021, Murkowski raised objections to the mandate, saying it was endangering those working in already dangerous situations.
“So I’ve got fisherman, commercial fisherman that are out there in the water – I’ve got crabbers, salmon fisherman, and cod fisherman that are trying to deal with a mask because they are concerned about failure to comply. This is more of a safety hazard than anything else. You’re out on a boat, the winds are howling, your mask is soggy wet – tell me how anybody thinks this is a sane and sound policy?” Murkowski said in a hearing involving the head of the CDC at the time, Rochelle Walensky. “You’ve got a situation right now where the fishermen are more concerned about the liability in failing to have the mask on rather than prudent marine safety protocols. This is absolutely, absolutely a crazy policy. I don’t understand how we put our Coast Guard men and women in a situation where they know that safety is an issue, a broader safety issue, than the fear of transmission when you are outdoor, in the elements and you are now being required to wear a mask. So I would hope the CDC would reconsider this quickly, quickly, quickly.”
By April 2022, a federal judge in Florida voided Biden’s mask mandate, saying the mandate overstepped the authority of his office.