U.S. District Judge Ends Federal Mask Mandate on Transit

A Trump-appointed U.S. district judge in Florida voided the Biden administration's mask mandate that applied to plane, train and bus travel. It had just been renewed by the CDC on April 13 and was due to expire on May 3.

April 19, 2022, 10:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Bus riders wearing masks

Drazen Zigic / Bus riders wearing masks

“U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of the Middle District of Florida said the mandate exceeds the statutory authority of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC],” reports Michael Laris for The Washington Post on April 18. “Federal officials last week had extended the mask mandate for commercial flights and in other transportation settings, including on buses, ferries and subways, until at least May 3.”

In her decision Monday, Mizelle, who was appointed by former president Donald Trump and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, said the CDC had relied on a 1944 law, the Public Health Service Act [aka Title 42], to impose the mandate. But the government’s argument that it put the mask requirement in place for the purpose of “sanitation” falls short, Mizelle argued.

The case was brought on behalf of a legal group known as Health Freedom Defense Fund and airline passengers, including Ana Daza, who said she has anxiety aggravated by wearing masks.

“The court concludes that the Mask Mandate exceeds the CDC's statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act,” states the 59-page ruling [pdf]. 

Accordingly, the Court vacates the mandate and remands it to the CDC.

No word on whether CDC plans to appeal the decision, noted Laris. “The CDC said Monday it wouldn’t comment on pending litigation.”

Completes transition from pandemic to endemic policy response

The CDC had already essentially transitioned from a pandemic to an endemic response to COVID-19 when it revised its masking guidance on Feb. 25.

“The transportation mandate has been among the highest-profile mask requirements in the country, persisting after most school districts and other jurisdictions have allowed similar mandates to expire,” added Laris.

What is not known is if the coronavirus itself is ready to make that transition to endemicity.

According to The New York Times coronavirus tracker, transmission has increased nationwide by 39% in the last two weeks to a daily average of almost 37,000 new cases on April 17. However, hospitalizations, a better COVID metric when breakthrough infections during the omicron wave are commonplace, have decreased by 7 percent to just below 15,000, the lowest in any surge or wave since the start of the pandemic over two years ago.

Hat tip to Katie Shepherd who writes The Washington Post Coronavirus Updates newsletter.

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