Travel Mask Mandate Struck Down: What It Means In California


CALIFORNIA — A federal judge struck down the federal travel mask mandate Monday, meaning face coverings to protect against COVID-19 are no longer required on planes, trains and, in most cases, subways and buses.

In the Golden State, some agencies decided to hold onto masking requirements while others dropped mandates.

Florida federal Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle said in the 59-page decision striking down the travel mask mandate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both exceeded its legal authority and failed to go through proper channels to put the rule in place.

As a result, the CDC late Monday said its order requiring masks on public transportation “is no longer in effect” and the agency will not enforce it. However, the CDC said it “continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time.”

The CDC first issued an order mandating masks on public conveyances in January 2021, saying “traveling on public transportation increases a person’s risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.”

Overnight, the scene at Golden State airports and others across the country changed dramatically.

Mask regulations for California’s largest airports as of Tuesday:

  • LAX – Masks not required.
  • SFO – Masks not required.
  • San Diego Airport – Masks not required.
  • John Wayne Airport – Masks not required.
  • Oakland Int’l Airport -Masks not required.
  • Hollywood-Burbank Airport – Masks not required.

Effective Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration was no longer requiring masks on planes or in the nation’s airports. One by one, most of the nation’s major airlines dropped mask requirements, making the face coverings optional for employees and passengers.

The TSA said in its statement that the CDC continues to recommend face coverings to protect against the coronavirus. Amtrak issued a stronger statement, saying that although they are no longer required of passengers and employees, “masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19.”

The Florida decision also affects ride-hailing companies. Uber no longer requires masks as of Tuesday and Lyft soon followed suit, saying masks are now optional for riders and drivers.

Still, some state and local transit agencies could keep their mask requirements. Last week, the CDC had extended the now-suspended mask rule to study the worrisome BA.2. subvariant of the coronavirus, which is responsible for most of the COVID-19 cases around the country.

In Los Angeles, previously California’s coronavirus epicenter, local transit agency Metro decided Tuesday to hold onto a mask mandate for its buses and trains. Its website announced “per federal law face masks are still required to ride on all buses and trains.”
Metrolink officials, however, opted to drop the mandate, making it only a recommendation.

And despite the judge’s ruling, the Riverside Transit Agency will also keep mask requirements in place.

“Things are changing quickly, and this judge’s ruling is really new,” RTA spokesman Brad Weaver told City News Service. “At this point, we are going to see what direction we get on the legal side, or further direction from the FTA.”

READ MORE: Face Masks Still Required On Riverside Transit Agency Buses

But Los Angeles International Airport did drop its mask requirement Tuesday in indoor transportation settings, Heath Montgomery, an airport spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times.

In the Bay Area, San Francisco’s Muni system said a mask order remains in effect until further notice from the Federal Transit Administration.

A spokesperson from Sacramento International Airport told KCRA that the airport will stop requiring face masks of passengers and staff.

Philadelphia extended its mask mandate, the first city to do so in response, and on Monday, a group of local residents and businesses filed a lawsuit to throw out the mask mandate.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City said Monday it would keep its mask mandate in place on the bus, subway and rail systems it oversees, The New York Times reported.

The case before Mizelle, appointed to the federal bench by now-former President Donald Trump in November 2020 after he lost the presidential election, was filed in July 2021 by two plaintiffs and the Health Freedom Defense Fund.

“The court concludes that the mask mandate exceeds the CDC’s statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking under the APA,” the judge wrote.

It’s unclear if the Biden administration will appeal the decision. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that Mizelle’s decision was “disappointing,” and the administration’s response is still under review and the “Department of Justice would make any determination about litigation.”

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