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CDC reiterates importance of masks on airplanes, public transportation

Despite a judge’s ruling that ended a federal mask mandate, the CDC urges that they be worn in transportation settings

A United Airlines worker assists travelers after the Biden administration announced it would no longer enforce a mask mandate on public transportation. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
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Federal health officials on Tuesday repeated their recommendation that masks be worn on airplanes, buses and in other public transportation settings where large numbers of people congregate.

Despite a federal judge’s order last month striking down the federal transportation mask mandate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said masks continue to be an important tool for stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

TSA stops mask enforcement after federal judge voids mandate

“CDC continues to recommend that all people — passengers and workers, alike — properly wear a well-fitting mask or respirator in indoor public transportation conveyances and transportation hubs to provide protection for themselves and other travelers in these high volume, mixed population settings,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement that accompanied the recommendation.

Walensky said that while masks protect the wearer, they also help protect those who have not been vaccinated or who may be at an increased risk for severe covid-19.

Tuesday’s reminder from the CDC came one day before the federal mandate’s expiration. The original mandate was put into place by President Biden shortly after he took office and extended several times. Before that, masks were required in various settings, including on airplanes, but there was no federal mechanism to enforce the rule.

Masks went away. Then anxiety spiked for high-risk travelers.

When they announced the most recent extension, federal health officials said they had hoped to use the additional time to assess the need for a mask requirement in transportation settings based on factors such as the risk of virus variants and trends in caseloads.

But that plan was upended by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of the Middle District of Florida, who tossed out the requirement, saying it exceeded the statutory authority of the CDC. The Justice Department then announced it would appeal the decision.

How a single judge's ruling upended national covid policy

In polls, Americans have been roughly split on the need for face coverings in public transportation settings.

The seven-day national average number of coronavirus cases is up 23 percent compared with a week earlier, according to data compiled by The Washington Post, with hospitalizations up 3.6 percent. However, deaths from the virus have declined 14 percent.