BART is now the lone transit agency in the Bay Area with a mask mandate, after going a week with some flip-flopping on the policy.
Ten days after an unqualified, Trump-appointed federal judge nullified the CDC's national mask mandate for air travel and public transit — on the shaky grounds that the words "sanitation" and "or other measures" shouldn't include the wearing of masks in a pandemic — Bay Area Rapid Transit is reinstating its mask mandate for all riders through July 18. The move comes as all signs point to a fresh wave of infections in the Bay Area and beyond, likely driven by the BA.2 subvariant of the Omicron COVID variant.
As KPIX reports, BART's board voted Thursday morning to reinstate the mandate, a week after sending some mixed signals in the wake of mask mandates being dropped on airlines and transit systems nationwide.
BART may be alone in the Bay Area, currently, in having a rule required masks, but transit agencies in other cities seeing a fresh COVID surge still have their mandates in place. You still need a mask on subway trains in New York and Chicago, and at all transit hubs in New York including airports; and Philadelphia reinstated a blanket indoor mask mandate for restaurants, businesses, and public transportation last week.
BART Board President Rebecca Saltzman had already foretold this decision last week, saying that when the board met this week (they only meet every two weeks), they would likely vote to keep a mask mandate in place.
The board today said that the focus would be on encouraging mask-wearing, and riders without one would not be ejected from trains — but would be offered a mask by staff.
"“The goal is to not penalize people,” said Saltzman, per the East Bay Times. “The goal is to get people to wear their masks.”
The vote to reinstate the mandate was nearly unanimous, with BART directors Robert Raburn and Deborah Allen abstaining. Both said they would prefer to just continue encouraging mask-wearing, but not mandating it.
On Wednesday, as the East Bay Times notes, AC Transit's board took a split 3-3 vote on reinstating its mask mandate.
Initially last week, following the ruling by Tampa-based U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle — who happens to be married to a Trump White House flunky, and who was one of the youngest people ever put on the federal bench at age 33 when Trump appointed her in late 2020 — the SFMTA said it would keep its mask mandate in place while the issue was worked out in court. But not long after the White House indicated it wouldn't seek a stay of the decision — even though the Justice Department is appealing it — the mandate was dropped for Muni buses and trains.
Things could always change again for Muni, especially as we see case counts rising again in SF and the case-positivity rate is currently higher than it's been since January, and as high as during the Delta peak last summer.