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 Travelers wear face coverings in the line for the south north security checkpoint in the main terminal of Denver International Airport Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Denver.
Travelers wear face coverings in the line for the south north security checkpoint in the main terminal of Denver International Airport Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021, in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)

WASHINGTON — People who refuse to comply with a federal mandate that requires them to wear masks in airports, and on trains, buses and in other public transportation settings will face stiffer penalties, Biden administration officials announced Thursday.

Beginning Friday, the fine for refusing to wear a mask will increase to a range of $500 to $1,000 for first offenders. Penalties for a second offense will range from $1,000 to $3,000.

“TSA will double the fines on travelers that refuse to mask,” President Joe Biden said Thursday. “If you break the rules, be prepared to pay. And by the way, show some respect!”

The stiffer penalties are part of aggressive new actions the administration is taking to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The highly contagious delta variant has fueled a sharp uptick in infections this summer and is causing more than 1,500 daily deaths, chiefly among those who have not been vaccinated. More than 655,000 people in the United States have died of the virus.

Biden’s actions Thursday include mandating vaccines for all federal workers and contractors who do business with the government and requiring businesses that employ more than 100 workers to ensure workers are vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

Transportation has been one setting where the administration has long imposed rules on behavior.

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security recently announced they were extending a federal mask mandate through Jan. 18. It was first put into place in February and originally was set to expire this month.

“Wearing a mask protects the traveling public and all of the personnel who make the travel experience safe, secure, and comfortable,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in a statement Thursday that accompanied the announcement. “We will continue to enforce the mask mandate as long as necessary to protect public health and safety.”

Penalties imposed by the Transportation Security Administration, which is charged with enforcing the mask mandate in transportation settings, are separate from those imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration for passengers who act out on flights. TSA officials did not respond to questions about how many people have been fined.

“We appreciate the majority of travelers each day who voluntarily follow the requirement, but find this action necessary to maximize the protections for those who use and work within the transportation system, and to contain COVID-19,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said. “By doubling the range of penalties, we seek to reinforce the importance of voluntary adherence.”

Children under 2 and those with certain disabilities are exempt from the mask requirement. Under previous rules, penalties for noncompliance began at $250 and increased to $1,500 for repeat offenders.

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