BY CURT ANDERSON
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge in Florida on Monday lifted the national mask mandate for airlines and other public transportation, and the Biden administration said the rule will not be enforced while federal agencies decide how to respond to the judge’s order should react.
The White House said the court ruling meant the mask order “is not in effect at this time.”
The ruling appeared to leave operators free to make their own decisions about mask requirements, with several airlines announcing they would drop mandates but the New York City Subway planning to keep one.
The Association of Flight Attendants, the country’s largest association of flight attendants, recently took a neutral position on the mask rule because its members are divided on the issue. On Monday, the union leader called for calm on planes and airports.
“The last thing we need for front-line workers or traveling passengers today is confusion and chaos,” said union leader Sara Nelson.
Nelson said airlines take 24 to 48 hours to roll out new procedures and notify employees about them. She said passengers should check with airlines for updates on travel requirements.
U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle’s decision in Tampa, an appointment made by former President Donald Trump, also said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not justify their decision and did not follow proper rule-making procedures, which they did made serious mistakes.
In her 59-page ruling, Mizelle said the only remedy is to completely repeal the rule nationwide because it was impossible for the limited group of people who objected to the lawsuit to end it.
The judge said “a limited appeal would be no appeal at all,” and the courts have full authority to make a decision like this — even if the CDC’s goals in fighting the virus are commendable.
The Justice Department declined to comment when asked if it would seek an emergency stay to block the judge’s order. The CDC also declined to comment.
“This is obviously a disappointing decision,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “The CDC recommends wearing a mask on public transit.”
The CDC recently extended the mask mandate, which was due to expire Monday, to May 3 to allow more time to investigate the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus, which now accounts for the vast majority of cases in the United States responsible for
In New York, Metropolitan Transportation Authority communications director Tim Minton said, “We continue to follow CDC guidelines and will review the Florida court order.”
The MTA operates New York City buses and subways, as well as two commuter rail lines. Face coverings have been mandatory on all trains and buses since the pandemic began.
Federal mask requirements for travelers have been the target of months of lobbying by airlines trying to kill them. The airlines argued that effective air filters on modern planes make in-flight transmission of the virus highly unlikely. Republicans in Congress also campaigned to kill the mandate.
Critics have seized on the fact that states have rolled back rules requiring masks in restaurants, stores and other indoor settings, and yet COVID-19 cases have fallen sharply since the Omicron variant peaked in mid-January.
There have been a number of violent incidents on planes, mostly attributed to disputes over mask requirements.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2021 by two plaintiffs and the Health Freedom Defense Fund, which the judge’s order describes as a nonprofit group that opposes “laws and regulations that compel individuals to comply with the administration of medical products, procedures and… subjugating devices against their will.”
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was not directly involved in the case but has campaigned against many state coronavirus requirements, praised the verdict in a statement on Twitter.
“Great to see a federal judge in Florida follow the law and reject the Biden mandate for transportation masks. Both the airline staff and the passengers deserve to see this misery end,” DeSantis tweeted.
Associated Press writers David Koenig in Dallas, Michael Balsamo and Will Weissert in Washington, and Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this story.
https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/04/18/florida-judge-voids-us-mask-mandate-for-planes-other-travel/ US mask requirements for airlines and other travel are voided