KN95 mask (Igal Vaisman/

COVID: White House orders government-wide mask use

It has been exactly one year since the first case of COVID-19 in North America was identified. Since that time, workplace safety in the U.S.—across all regions and sectors—has been upended by the COVID pandemic, so far causing 400,000 dead, millions more sick, and severe strains on jobs and workers.

With coronavirus still spreading and vaccination only beginning, the new Biden administration is ordering, as of Jan. 20, all federal employees, contractors and visitors on federal property—across all federal agencies—to mask up.

“[O]n-duty or on-site Federal employees, on-site Federal contractors, and other individuals in federal buildings and on federal lands should all wear masks, maintain physical distance, and adhere to other public health measures, as provided in CDC guidelines,” the executive order states.

The order requires managers to take action to ensure universal masking—and social distancing—takes place. “The heads of executive departments and agencies … shall immediately take action, as appropriate and consistent with applicable law, to require compliance with CDC guidelines with respect to wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and other public health measures,” the order continues. The order will be implemented and applied to “on-duty or on-site Federal employees; on-site federal contractors; and all persons in federal buildings or on federal lands.”

The order—which was foreshadowed during the election campaign, and widely anticipated—is designed to save lives but also to ensure feds can complete their missions. The White House is also concerned that that the virus threatens cohesive, functioning organizations.

Masking must be done “to protect the Federal workforce and individuals interacting with the Federal workforce, and to ensure the continuity of Government services and activities,” as the White House order notes.

There is no official estimate of the number of cases contracted at work, but experts have identified indoor air and office buildings and environments as significant areas where spread occurs. Though vast numbers of feds are teleworking, thousands of others are commuting or required to report to a physical workplace.

For more, consult the order’s particulars, available on the White House website.

Reader comments

Sat, Jan 23, 2021

If you don't wear your mask,you will be sleeping in your agency's underground parking garage.

Sat, Jan 23, 2021

SES level careerists are of course exempt from masking as are all political appointees because that's the way it always is.

Fri, Jan 22, 2021 Northern California

I agree with 99% on the EO. But as someone who works outdoors its hard to believe it can be enforced with publics out recreating or fighting wildland fires. The way it reads is if I am on Federal ground I will fall into the mandatory masking policy. I'd sure like someone to explain how that is going to work. As usual it sounds great but its not enforceable.

Fri, Jan 22, 2021

We've been wearing our masks at work since March 2020 - and every where else for at least 6 months or more. But, the numbers continue to skyrocket. Is that the best he's got for a plan? I thought he'd have it cured first day - since they said the previous administration was so inept. Hmm... maybe it's not so easy as they thought.

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2021 Digital Almanac

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