US coronavirus
A subway customer walks a sparsely populated 42nd Street Times Square platform while covering his face due to coronavirus concerns in New York. Los Angeles is half the size of New York City but has a disproportionately small fraction of the coronavirus cases and deaths as the nation's largest city. The same goes for California when compared with New York state as a whole, which is the current epicentre of the outbreak in the US. Image Credit: AP

WASHINGTON: The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is increasing the penalty for people who violate the mandate to wear masks on planes, trains and other forms of transportation to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

First-time offenders would face a potential fine of $500 to $1,000 and second offenders could face fines ranging from $1,000 to $3,000.

The fine currently starts at $250 and could go up to $1,500 for repeat offenders.

The Department of Homeland Security said the new fines will take effect Friday and the requirement to wear masks on planes, buses and other forms of transportation will remain in effect until at least Jan. 18.

The mask mandate has been controversial and has led to many encounters between passengers who don't want to wear a mask and flight attendants asked to enforce the rule. The Federal Aviation Administration said last month that airlines have reported 3,889 incidents involving unruly passengers this year, and 2,867 -- or 74% -- involved refusing to wear a mask.

The mask order, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for responding to the pandemic, was first issued on Jan. 29, days after President Joe Biden took office. Before that, airlines had their own requirements for face coverings but former President Donald Trump's administration had declined to make it a federal rule.

Chicago mask food like covid
People wear face masks as they wait for an ICNA (Islamic Circle of North America) Relief Resource Centre and Food Pantry to open during the COVID-19 pandemic in Chicago, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. ICNA Relief provides social services across the US to the underprivileged and those affected by natural disasters. Image Credit: AP