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The claim: Masks required on federal lands outdoors, even hikers, no medical exceptions
A Facebook user wrote Jan. 23 in response to President Joe Biden's executive order requiring mask-wearing on federal lands: "Masks now required on federal lands outdoors, effective today. Even hikers, no medical exceptions."
The post has more than 500 comments and 300 reactions. USA TODAY was unable to reach the poster for comment.
Biden's executive order on masks
The order reads, "Simply put, masks and other public health measures reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when communities make widespread use of such measures, and thus save lives."
It says that to protect federal workers and those interacting with them, federal workers and contractors, as well as individuals, "should all wear masks, maintain physical distance, and adhere to other public health measures, as provided in CDC guidelines."
The order leaves details to be worked out by the various departments and agencies. It allows for exceptions, so long as agency heads "require appropriate alternative safeguards, such as additional physical distancing measures, additional testing, or reconfiguration of workspace, consistent with applicable law."
Subsequent guidance from the Office of Management and Budget suggests, "Masks should also be worn in outdoor shared spaces when physical distancing cannot be maintained."
It continues: "Agencies may provide for exceptions consistent with CDC guidelines, for example when an individual is alone in an office with floor to ceiling walls and a closed door or for a limited time when eating or drinking and maintaining distancing in accordance with CDC guidelines."
Jeff Zients, coordinator of the Biden administration's COVID-19 task force, explained further in an interview with CNN.
"This executive action will direct the agencies to take action to require compliance with CDC guidance on mask wearing and physical distancing in federal buildings, on federal lands and by federal employees and contractors," Zients said Jan. 20.
What does that mean for outdoor spaces in national forests?
"We are evaluating the implications of the change and will provide updates as they become available," said Babete Anderson, national press officer of the U.S. Forest Service.
On Feb. 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, issued its guidelines regarding masks for staff and contractors, which acknowledged mask-wearing is not always easy: "USDA recognizes that wearing masks may be difficult for some people. If they are unable to wear a mask properly, they should request an accommodation, and adaptations and alternatives must and will be considered."
Adrianne Rubiaco, spokesperson for the National Forests in North Carolina, told the Smoky Mountain News, “Our focus is on encouraging the safe enjoyment of the outdoors. Masks should be worn when physical distancing cannot be maintained.”
The National Park Service issued guidelines Feb. 2, requiring masks in all buildings and facilities on park grounds. "Masks are also required on NPS-managed lands when physical distancing cannot be maintained, including narrow or busy trails, overlooks and historic homes," the news release says.
The National Park Service statement did not divulge any enforcement measures.
It's unclear how the mask rules will be enforced, particularly at national parks, monuments and other outdoor federal grounds, but one expert doesn't foresee problems.
"I don't know how challenging it would be to enforce the mask mandate in parks. My gut feeling suggests it might actually not be that hard because most visitors go to a few well-defined locations in national parks," said Steven Beissinger, faculty co-director for the Institute for Parks, People and Biodiversity at the University of California-Berkeley.
Educational materials and "strategically placed docents" could serve as reminders to the public, said Beissinger, a professor of ecology and conservation biology.
"Out on the trails, this will be less easy to do but also less of an issue as most groups of visitors are probably podding together," he said. "Tour buses (if they are in operation) to popular parks – like Yosemite – would be the exception. But they would have to follow health mandates anyway."
Our rating: Missing context
We rate this claim as MISSING CONTEXT, based on our research. Though Biden made good on a promise to deliver a mask mandate, the executive order did not instantly change the rules at national parks and other outdoor federal lands or make blanket requirements that masks be worn at all times in all locations. Even the strictest reading of Biden's order allows room for agencies to make accommodations for people who can't wear masks for health reasons or where people are socially distant. Agencies that govern outdoor spaces had not fully developed policies at the time of the Facebook post,which overstates the order's effect.
Our fact check sources:
White House, Jan. 20, Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing
Office of Management and Budget, Jan. 24, guidance to federal agencies
CNN, Jan. 20, interview with Jeff Zients
Smoky Mountain News, Feb. 10, "Masking rules take effect on public lands"
US Forest Service, accessed Feb. 1, "Coronavirus updates – Here’s what we know"
National Park Service, Feb. 2, "National Park Service implements mask requirement across all parks and federal buildings'
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Hikers on US lands should distance or wear masks