A Trump-appointed federal judge in Florida issued a ruling Monday that denied the authority of the CDC to continue its federal mask mandate on planes and public transit — a mandate that was set to expire in two weeks anyway. That's leading to some conflicting rules, especially at SFO, about where masks have to be worn.
For the still COVID-nervous, it remains a precarious time in which a new sibling-variant to Omicron is quickly spreading east to west across the country. There is anecdotal evidence and some data to suggest that San Francisco is experiencing its own surge right now. And Philadelphia just became the first major city to reinstate its mask mandate for schools, businesses, and restaurants after seeing a 50% rise in new COVID cases.
But after a push by airlines to finally drop the mask mandate on planes — something that the politically rage-filled and right-leaning think is a reason to cause scenes on planes because they don't like being told what to do unless they're being told by a fascist wannabe autocrat — a federal judge issued a ruling Monday that at least temporarily vacates the CDC's nationwide mandate for plane, train, and cab travel.
U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa — whose confirmation to the court at the age of 33 in 2020, after Trump lost the election, was decried by Democrats because of her lack of experience — issued the controversial ruling, undercutting the CDC's authority to create such broad public-health rules. And while the legally dodgy ruling might not stand up on appeal, it comes at a moment when it's highly politically unpopular to suggest we're still in a pandemic, even if we are.
The White House on Monday called the ruling "disappointing," and encouraged air travelers to keep wearing masks despite it. But Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration was still deciding whether to appeal the ruling.
The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) on Monday said it would no longer enforce the federal rule, which was originally set to expire today anyway but was extended an extra two weeks because of the BA.2 subvariant. And Uber and Lyft quickly announced that they would allow passengers to remove their masks in rideshare vehicles as well — though you may still encounter drivers who have theirs on, or who would prefer you wore yours as well.
ABC 7 reported Monday that BART police would no longer enforce the mask rule, but you're still likely to see plenty of masked passengers on the trains in the weeks or months to come.
Likewise, SFO was still keeping its "masks required" signage up Monday even though the federal rule was no longer in place — and some passengers were even told mid-flight that they could take masks off, which was met with cheers.
Masks had been required by the airlines themselves as air travel began picking up again in mid- and late 2020. But the current federal mandate for planes and public transit has only been in place since Joe Biden took office in January 2021. It was originally set to expire in May 2021 but has been extended, and Mizelle's decision hinged on the word "sanitation," and whether the CDC was legally allowed to mandate anything besides cleaning procedures.
Last week, the CDC announced that the mandate would be extended again for only two weeks, until May 3, in light of the growing number of outbreaks from the BA.2 subvariant.
For its part, the SFMTA announced Monday that masks would still be required on Muni buses and trains, "as we learn more" and "as this issue makes its way through our legal process." But it will certainly be confusing if everyone suddenly doesn't have to wear a mask on BART or in an Uber, but they do have to wear one on Muni, so it remains to be seen how long the "time being" ends up being for Muni.
HeadsUp: Earlier today a federal judge struck down the mask mandate for airplanes and public transit. As this issue makes its way through our legal process, the federal policy remains in place. For the time being, as we wait to learn more, masks remain required on #SFMuni (1/5)— SFMTA (@sfmta_muni) April 18, 2022
➡️We choose masks = healthy ride#SFMuni riders wear masks. ATM, the FTA requires everyone on transit to wear a mask. Even when this changes, masks will be a good option. One-way masking to protect yourself does work—esp. if it’s a surgical mask, N95, KN95, KF94 or similar. 5— SFMTA (@sfmta_muni) April 18, 2022
Top image: Airline passengers without face masks walk through San Francisco International Airport on April 19, 2022 in San Francisco, California. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will not enforce a federal Covid-19 mask mandate on airplanes or public transportation after a federal judge in Florida struck down the mandate that applied to airports, airplanes and public transportation, ruling that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had overstepped its authority. The CDC still recommends wearing masks on public transit. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)