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The U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday that it could appeal the federal district judge’s ruling that ended the federal mask mandate for public transportation – but only if the CDC believes the requirement is still needed.
On Monday, a Florida judge ended the national mandate, which required face coverings on planes, trains, and buses, as well as in transportation hubs.
“The Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disagree with the district court’s decision and will appeal, subject to the CDC’s conclusion that the order remains necessary for public health,” Anthony Coley, a spokesman for the department, said in a statement.
The federal mask order was “a valid exercise of the authority Congress has given CDC to protect the public health,” Coley said, which is “an important authority the Department will continue to work to preserve.”
But at the same time, the CDC would continue to assess public health conditions and determine if a mandate is necessary, he said. If so, the Justice Department will file an appeal. As of Tuesday, the CDC hadn’t made a determination, according to The Associated Press.
The CDC extended the mask mandate last week, which was set to expire on May 3, to give officials more time to follow the increase in COVID-19 cases due to the BA.2 subvariant. But the court ruling puts that decision on hold for now.
Monday’s ruling removed the last major federal pandemic rule, the AP reported, leading to changes right away at many major airports and a mix of responses at the local level. Airports in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Newark, NJ, and Salt Lake City switched to a mask-optional policy, while Chicago and New York City continued to require face coverings for travelers.
Major airlines were some of the first companies to update their rules after the court decision. American, Alaska, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United announced that masks would no longer be required on domestic flights, effective immediately. Some European carriers that operate in the U.S., including Air France and Lufthansa, will keep mask rules in place.
Videos posted on social media showed passengers on domestic flights cheering and applauding as they removed their masks, with some flight crews announcing mid-flight that face coverings were now optional. At the same time, some travelers said they were frustrated and angry about boarding a flight under the assumption that masks would be required, especially for those with health conditions or children not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
When asked on Tuesday if Americans should wear masks on planes, President Joe Biden chose to be flexible.
“That’s up to them,” he told reporters during a visit to New Hampshire to promote infrastructure spending, according to The New York Times.
The White House still requires face coverings for those traveling with Biden on Air Force One, per CDC guidance. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, also urged Americans to follow the current health guidance, the newspaper reported. Ashish Jha, MD, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said he was disappointed in the new ruling.
“CDC scientists had asked for 15 days to make a more data-driven durable decision,” he wrote in a Twitter post. “We should have given it to them. But I’ll continue to follow CDC guidance & mask up on planes.”
Other transportation hubs began shifting rules on Tuesday as well, with mass transit in Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Portland, OR, and Washington, DC, moving to mask-optional policies.
The quick changes caused some confusion, according to the AP, with some passengers at Chicago’s Union Station unsure about what to do. Amtrak removed its requirement, while the Chicago Transit Authority and Metra required masks earlier in the day but dropped the rule later.
Private companies also announced changes on Tuesday. Lyft and Uber said masks would be optional while riding or driving.
Walt Disney World in Florida posted on its website posted on its websitethat the mask requirement would be lifted for transportation – such as buses, the monorail, and the sky gondola – as well as all resort areas. The company said guests who aren’t fully vaccinated should wear face coverings in indoor locations, including indoor attractions, theaters, and enclosed transportation.
Monday’s ruling took White House officials by surprise and frustrated them, two senior administration officials told the Times. As travelers and transit systems quickly move to mask-free plans, the Biden administration has scrambled to figure out a response.
The Associated Press: “Feds will appeal mask ruling only if mandate still needed.”
U.S. Department of Justice: “Justice Department Issues Statement on Ruling in Health Freedom Defense Fund Inc., et. al. v. Biden, et. al.”
CDC: “CDC Mask Order Remains in Effect and CDC Realigns Travel health Notice System,” April 13, 2022.
The New York Times: “Biden says Americans should decide for themselves if they want to wear masks on public transportation.”
Twitter: @AshishKJha46, April 19, 2022
Walt Disney World Resort: “Returning to a World of Magic.”
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