The CDC on Tuesday reiterated its recommendation to wear masks on planes, trains, and buses.
A court ruling last month struck down a national mask mandate on public transportation.
In a media statement, the CDC recommended all persons aged 2 and older – including passengers and workers – wear a well-fitting mask in indoor areas of public transportation.
Prior to the April court order striking down the CDC mask mandate, the Transportation Security Administration enforced a requirement for all passengers and workers to wear masks. The most recent mandate was set to expire on May 3. But when a federal judge in Florida ruled the mandate illegal on April 18, the TSA indicated it would no longer require the mandate.
The CDC has asked the Justice Department to appeal the court’s decision.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) indicated its “zero-tolerance policy” for unruly passengers will be permanent despite a court decision essentially ending the transportation mask requirements.
Although a federal judge on Monday ruled the transportation mask mandate policy illegal, the FAA has indicated the policy of zero tolerance for unruly behavior will remain in effect and the administration will continue to issue fines to those creating disturbances. Fines since January 2021 have exceeded 6.5 million dollars.
“Behaving dangerously on a plane will cost you; that’s a promise,” said Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen. “Keeping our zero-tolerance policy will help us continue making progress to prevent and punish this behavior.”
Referring to two recent fines designated as the highest ever imposed, the FAA added “two flight attendants tried to restrain the passenger, but she repeatedly hit one of the flight attendants on the head. After the passenger was restrained in flex cuffs, she spit at, headbutted, bit and tried to kick the crew and other passengers.”
Unruly passenger incidents have often involved the mask mandate, with an estimated 70% involving passengers objecting to being required to wear masks when required by the airline enforcing the mandate with over 7,000 incidents recorded.
The Biden administration’s mask mandate was struck down by a federal judge in Florida yesterday in a 59 page ruling.
As a result, the requirement to wear a mask for airplanes and other public transportation can not be enforced and the order is no longer in effect.
Only last week, the CDC had extended the mask mandate to May 2.
US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled the mandate unlawful and exceeded the regulatory authority of the CDC and violated administrative law. It is not known if the Justice Department will request an order abating the ruling and filing an appeal.
The developments created some confusion, but several airlines almost immediately announced wearing a mask was optional. Amtrak rescinded its mask requirement. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) indicated it would no longer enforce the mask requirement. “The agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps,” an administration official said. “In the meantime, today’s court decision means CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time. Therefore, TSA will not enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time.”
Despite protests from airlines and travel industry associations, the CDC has extended the transportation mask mandate for an additional 15 days, citing the ongoing risk of infection from recent surges of Covid-19 in the United States.
“CDC continues to monitor the spread of the Omicron variant, especially the BA.2 subvariant that now makes up more than 85% of U.S. cases,” said CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund. “Since early April, there have been increases in the 7-day moving average of cases in the U.S. In order to assess the potential impact the rise of cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity, the CDC Order will remain in place at this time. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has decided to extend the security directive and emergency amendment for 15 days, through May 3, 2022.”
The mask mandate was scheduled to end next week after April 18th. The CDC has repeatedly extended the requirement to wear masks over the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the current 15-day extension is the shortest yet mandate extension.