A federal judge in Florida struck down the national mask mandate covering airlines and other public transportation Monday, and the Biden administration said the rule would not be enforced while federal agencies decide how to respond to the judge’s order.
The White House said the court ruling means that for now the mask order “is not in effect at this time.”
The ruling appeared to free operators to make their own decisions about mask requirements, with several airlines announcing they would drop mandates, but the New York City subway is planning to keep one in place. United, American, Delta, Southwest, and Alaska are among the carriers dropping the mandate.
The Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s largest union of cabin crews, has recently taken a neutral position on the rule because its members are divided about the issue. On Monday, the union’s president appealed for calm on the planes and airports.
“The last thing we need for workers on the frontlines or passengers traveling today is confusing and chaos,” said, Sara Nelson, a union leader.
Nelson said it takes airlines 24 to 48 hours to put new procedures in place and tell employees about them. She said passengers should check with airlines for updates about travel requirements.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, also said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to justify its decision and did not follow proper rulemaking procedures that left it fatally flawed.
In her 59-page ruling, Mizelle said the only remedy was to vacate the rule entirely across the country because it would be impossible to end it for the limited group of people who objected to the lawsuit.
The Justice Department declined to comment when asked if it would seek an emergency stay to block the judge’s order. The CDC is recommending wearing a mask on public transit.”
The CDC had recently extended the mask mandate until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus that is now responsible for the vast majority of the cases in the U.S.
In New York, Metropolitan Transportation Authority communications director Tim Minton said, “We are continuing to follow CDC guidelines and will review the Florida court order.”
Critics have seized on the fact that states have rolled back rules requiring masks in restaurants, stores, and other indoor settings, yet COVID-19 cases have fallen sharply since the omicron variant peaked in mid-January.
The lawsuit filed in July 2021 by two plaintiffs and the Health Freedom Defense Fund, described in the judge’s order as a nonprofit group that “opposes laws and regulations that force individuals to submit to the administration of medical products, procedures and devices against their will.”
In a statement on Twitter, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis – not directly involved in the case – praised the ruling. “Great to see a federal judge in Florida follow the law and reject the Biden transportation mask mandate. Both airline employees and passengers deserve to have this misery end,” tweeted DeSantis.
Source: Travel Weekly