BART leaders on Thursday voted to reinstate the agency's mask mandate on trains amid a recent uptick in COVID-19 infections.
Masks were optional but strongly recommended on BART trains after the federal and state mandates were lifted for public transit earlier this month.
At its scheduled Thursday morning meeting, the BART board of directors heard public remarks about the issue then voted to reinstate the mask mandate through July 18.
"I strongly support requiring a mask to ride BART to keep all our riders safe," BART Board President Rebecca Saltzman said in a statement. "I’m especially concerned for our riders who are immunocompromised, people with underlying health conditions, and children under the age of five who are not yet eligible for vaccination."
BART continues to offer free masks at all agent booths, and all train cars are equipped with MERV 14 air filters, the agency says are dense enough to trap the coronavirus.
BART said its police will continue education-based enforcement of the mask mandate by offering free masks to anyone who needs one before taking any enforcement action, which could include a citation up to $75 or being removed from the paid area.
Children younger than 2 and people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask are exempt from the mask mandate, BART officials said.
On Wednesday night, AC Transit's board split on whether or not to extend its mask mandate. The tie vote meant the motion did not pass.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise again in the Bay Area and with so many immunocompromised riders dependent on the transit system, the board said bringing back the mask mandate is crucial.
"BART leads the way. We’re on the right side of science and we ensure all bodies and all people can safely ride our system," said Janice Li, BART Board of Directors.
Some BART riders who NBC Bay Area talked to Thursday agreed that requiring masks is still needed.
"I’m all for it. There’s too many people out there who don’t have the immune system that can withstand exposure, especially in a packed public car or BART," said Lucy, a BART rider.
"I’m very glad that BART went ahead to mandate masks. I think that’s the right thing to do at this time," said Joe Friedman.
But not everyone’s on board. Two board members abstained from voting. While Some riders who NBC Bay Area spoke to on Thursday said they fear the mandate will cause a backslash
"I think when it’s mandated by the government, the problem is that it creates pushback by people not thinking scientifically and from a public health standpoint and it may worsen the situation," said Robert Schick.
"It’s kind of a setback. So this is really a setback that nobody wants to see and we got to just get through it," said Malik Justin.
Station agents will be giving out free masks. But they won’t be required to enforce the mandate. That will be up to BART police, who will issue warnings instead of citations for the next week.