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Philadelphia transit officials change policy on masks after video shows man being dragged off bus

Man removed from bus for not wearing mask
Police seen removing man from Philadelphia bus for not wearing a mask 01:28

Police in Philadelphia were caught on camera dragging a man off a city bus for not wearing a face mask amid the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the city's transit system has decided to change its policy, which previously stated customers could be refused service for not wearing a mask. 

Video taken on Friday morning shows police physically removing a passenger on a bus at 11th and Market Streets, CBS Philly reports. The driver had called the police because the man was not wearing a mask and would not leave the bus. 

A policy announced last week stated that anyone riding the SEPTA transit system must wear some sort of face covering, CBS Philly reports. "We are going to enforce. Not only can an operator of a vehicle refuse a rider who doesn't have a mask on, we will also have members of our transit police making sure," SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards said, according to the station. 

On Friday, an official boarded the bus to tell everyone without a face covering they must leave or police would remove them. When the passenger in question refused, holding on as tight as he could, three officers boarded the bus and removed him, dragging him out by his arms and one leg, the video shows. 

During a press conference later that day, SEPTA Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy said the police were not responding to a social distancing complaint, but rather to the fact that the passenger refused to leave. Police are currently investigating the incident.

When a passenger without a mask refused to leave the bus, holding on as tight as he could, three officers boarded the bus and removed him by holding him by his arms and one leg, dragging him out, the video shows.  Dupree Myers/Storyful

A bystander posted video of the incident on social media it went viral. On Friday, Mayor Jim Kenney said, "We're in strange times and people are reacting in strange ways but I don't blame the bus driver." 

However, the Philly Transit Riders Union questioned whether the removal was necessary, saying SEPTA must ensure any interaction with police does not end in violence, CBS Philly reports.

Following the incident, SEPTA changed its policy to say it "urges" riders to wear masks but will not require it. 

"SEPTA yesterday started requiring customers to wear facial coverings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. That policy will no longer be enforced," the statement reads, according to CBS Philly. "While SEPTA urges riders to cover their faces, those who refuse will not be barred entry to the system." CBS News has reached out to SEPTA officials for more details. 

Chief Press Officer for SEPTA Andrew Busch told CBS News the policy change was not made specifically because of this one incident. "We were getting feedback from customers and some employees indicating that there was confusion about the policy. That was the main driver in rolling it back," Busch said in an email to CBS News. 

As of Monday, the SEPTA website states that the transit system is following guidelines from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is urging passengers to wear a mask or facial covering. "Please comply with this request for your protection and the protection of others," the site reads, with no mention of the removal of passengers without facial coverings. 

The CDC says recent studies show that people can spread the coronavirus to others even if they haven't developed symptoms themselves. So in addition to maintaining 6 feet of social distancing and washing hands thoroughly, the CDC recommends people wear simple cloth face coverings in public — not surgical masks or N95 respirators, which should be reserved for health care workers. 

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