Florida judge overturns US mask mandate for airplanes and other public transportation – CBS Pittsburgh

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A Florida federal judge on Monday struck down the nationwide mask mandate covering airlines and other public transportation, and the Biden administration said the rule would not be enforced while federal agencies decide how respond to the judge’s order.

The decision appeared to free operators to make their own decisions about mask requirements, with several airlines announcing they would drop the mandates, but New York’s transit system plans to keep one. in place.

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The Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s largest cabin crew union, recently took a neutral stance on the mask rule because its members are divided on the issue. On Monday, the union president called for calm on planes and at airports.

“The last thing we need for frontline workers or passengers traveling today is confusion and chaos,” said union leader Sara Nelson.

Nelson said it takes airlines 24 to 48 hours to put new procedures in place and notify employees. She said passengers should check with airlines for updates on travel requirements.

Ruling by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, appointed by former President Donald Trump, also said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to provide a rationale for its decision and did not followed the proper rule-making procedures, which left her fatally flawed.

In her 59-page ruling, Mizelle said the only recourse was to overturn the nationwide rule entirely because ending it would be impossible for the limited group of people who opposed the lawsuit.

The judge said “a limited remedy would be no remedy at all” and that the courts have full authority to make a decision like this – even if the CDC’s goals in fighting the virus are laudable.

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.

The White House said the court’s decision means the mask order “is not in effect at this time.”

“It’s obviously a disappointing decision,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “The CDC recommends wearing a mask on public transportation.”

The CDC had recently extended the mandate for the mask, which was due to expire on Monday, until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the United States.

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In New York, Metropolitan Transportation Authority communications director Tim Minton said the system “continues 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 start of the pandemic.

United Airlines said in a statement that effective immediately, masks would no longer be required on domestic or select international flights.

“While this means our employees are no longer required to wear a mask — and no longer have to enforce a mask requirement for most travelers — they will be able to wear masks if they choose to, as the CDC continues to strongly recommend wearing a mask on public transport,” United said.

The federal mask requirement for travelers has been the target of months of lobbying by airlines, which have sought to kill it. Carriers have argued that efficient air filters on modern planes make transmission of the virus during a flight highly unlikely. Republicans in Congress also fought 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, yet COVID-19 cases have fallen sharply since the omicron variant peaked in mid-January. .

There have been a series of violent incidents on board planes which have been mainly attributed to disputes over mask-wearing requirements.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2021 by two plaintiffs and the Health Freedom Defense Fund, described in the judge’s order as a nonprofit group that “opposes laws and regulations that require individuals to submit to the administration of medical products, procedures and devices against their will”. .”

The TSA released a statement following the decision, saying:

“Due to today’s court ruling, effective immediately, the TSA will no longer enforce its safety guidelines and emergency amendment requiring the wearing of masks on public transportation and transportation hubs. The TSA will also rescind new security guidelines that were to take effect tomorrow. The CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks on indoor public transportation at this time. »

Late Monday, the Port Authority said it would no longer mandate mask-wearing.

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