Judge blocks US' transportation mask mandate, despite CDC extension

A federal judge in Florida on April 18 voided the nation's mask mandate on public transportation, including airplanes, trains, buses and airports. The move comes despite the CDC's recent decision to extend the rule through at least May 3. 

The ruling by Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle leaves it up to individual airlines and local transit agencies to decide whether to keep or drop the mask requirements, The New York Times reported. An official with the Biden Administration said the ruling "means CDC's public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time" and that the Transportation Security Administration would stop enforcing it.

Many of the nation's major airlines — including United, Delta, Southwest and American — said they were dropping their mask requirements following the ruling. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City said its mask mandate would remain in place, while the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in the District of Columbia and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia said masks are now optional for passengers and employees, the Times reports. 

"This is obviously a disappointing decision," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press conference. "The CDC continues recommending wearing a mask in public transit." She added that the administration is still reviewing the decision and whether to appeal it. 

Ms. Mizelle's ruling concluded the mask mandate "exceeds the CDC's statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking under the [Administrative Procedure Act]." It homed in on the agency's use of the word "sanitation," saying the government was leaning on a broader definition of the word, while Ms. Mizelle narrowed its meaning to "limited to cleaning measures."

"Wearing a mask cleans nothing," she wrote. 

Some health experts expressed concern regarding what this means for the CDC's authority in future disease outbreaks. 

"There are many aspects of this ruling that concern and frustrate me. But my biggest worry? What this means for future respiratory pandemics and new variants," Megan Ranney, MD, emergency medicine physician and academic dean at Brown University School of Public Health in Providence, R.I., said in a tweet

Two more federal pandemic updates: 

1. The White House on April 18 said it will hold the second Global COVID-19 Summit May 12. It was originally set to be held in March but was delayed after Russia's invasion of Ukraine and again after Congress did not renew funding for the U.S.' COVID-19 response efforts. The summit aims to generate new funding and global coordination of pandemic response. Politico reported the U.S. is using a "step-up to speak model" at this summit, meaning wealthier countries would have to make "significant" new financial commitments to address the pandemic to secure a speaking role at the summit. The first such summit was held in September. 

2. The CDC on April 18 updated its international COVID-19 travel advisory system, dropping all countries from level 4, its highest risk category, The Washington Post reports. The category, labeled "Special Circumstances/Do Not Travel," is now reserved for special circumstances, including rapidly escalating case trajectory and emergence of a new variant of concern, the CDC said in an April 13 statement. The update places about 120 countries in a level 3 advisory for "high COVID-19" levels. For travel to destinations in this category, the CDC recommends staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccines before traveling, or to avoid them if not up to date. About 90 countries were in the level 4 category before this update.


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