Infectious Disease

Florida judge shuts down public transit mask mandates in US

April 19, 2022

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Psaki reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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A federal judge in Florida overturned the CDC’s national mask mandate for public transportation — including on airplanes and trains — saying in her order that it was “unlawful.”

The order came less than a week after the CDC announced that it would extend the federal mask mandate through May 3 because of an increases in the 7-day moving average of COVID-19 cases caused largely by the omicron subvariant BA.2, which makes up more than 85% of all US cases.

airplane

A Florida judge overturned the CDC’s mask mandate for public transit, including air travel. Source: Shutterstock.

Following the order by US District Judge Kathryn Kimball micellethe Transportation Security Administration announced that it would no longer enforce the mask mandate on public transportation and in transportation hubs effective Tuesday.

Airlines made their own announcements regarding the mandate. In a statement, United Airlines said that “effective immediately, masks are no longer required at United on domestic flights, select international flights (depending upon the arrival country’s mask requirements) or at US airports.” Delta updated its guidance to say that masks are now optional for all airport employees, crew members and customers on flights and in airports.

Amtrak said passengers and employees are no longer required to wear masks on trains or in stations, although it said masks “remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19.”

The lawsuit was filed by plaintiffs Ana Carolina Daza other Sarah Pope of the Health Freedom Defense Fund, against President Biden. In it, the plaintiffs argued that the CDC mandate was “arbitrary and capricious” because it gave exemptions to certain groups — like children aged younger than 2 years old — but not others like the plaintiffs, who cited having anxiety induced by mask wearing.

Mizelle, who was appointed by President Donald J Trump in 2020, ultimately ruled that the CDC overstepped its legal authority in issuing the mandate — a stance other legal experts have argued is incorrect.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask on public transit.

“The CDC recommended continuing the order for additional time — 2 weeks — to be able to assess the latest science in keeping with its responsibility to protect the American people,” Psaki said during a briefing. “So, this is obviously a disappointing decision.”

During the briefing, Psaki said the White House thinks the mask mandate should be in place and that it is safer for individuals who are flying to continue to wear masks.

“We’d recommend you wear masks on the airplane,” she said.

References:

Amtrak. Coronavirus. https://www.amtrak.com/coronavirus. Accessed on April 19, 2022.

Delta NewsHub. Masks now optional for employees, customers following White House announcement. https://news.delta.com/masks-now-optional-employees-customers-following-white-house-announcement. Accessed on April 19, 2022.

TSA. Statement regarding face mask use on public transportation. https://www.tsa.gov/news/press/statements/2022/04/18/statement-regarding-face-mask-use-public-transportation. Accessed on April 19, 2022.

The White House. Press briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, April 18, 2022. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2022/04/18/press-briefing-by-press-secretary-jen-psaki -april-18-2022/. Accessed on April 19, 2022.

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Amesh A. Adalia, MD, MD)

Amesh A. Adalja, MD

I don’t have any concerns with the implications of the ruling. The Biden administration was set to have this expire in early May anyway. I have, however, found it odd that most activities don’t have government-required mask mandates except for travel, and with airplanes, the risk is very low because of the air cycling and filtration mechanisms in place.

The trajectory of the pandemic is going to be one in which there always will be COVID-19 cases, but they’ll increasingly be milder and decoupled from hospitalizations because of the medical countermeasures we have. COVID-19 was always destined to transition to a seasonal respiratory illness, just like other members of the coronavirus family, and the ending of the transportation mask mandate reflects the fact that we will increasingly treat the virus as such.

People should consider wearing masks if they’re uncomfortable with the risk for COVID-19, and especially if they have high-risk conditions. Just because the government tells you that you don’t have to wear a mask on an airplane or in other transportation venues does not mean that you are forbidden from doing so. One way masking works.

Amesh A. Adalja, MD

Senior scholar

Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

Disclosures: Adalja reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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