The Justice Department announced that it is prepared to challenge a federal district judge’s ruling that struck down the federal mask requirement on most public transit if the CDC deems it necessary in the interest of public health.
Feds Will Appeal Mask Ruling Only If Mandate Still Needed
The Justice Department said Tuesday it will not appeal a federal district judge’s ruling that ended the nation’s federal mask mandate on public transit unless the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes the requirement is still necessary. In a statement released a day after a Florida judge ended the sweeping mandate, which required face coverings on planes and trains and in transit hubs, Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said officials believe that the federal mask order was “a valid exercise of the authority Congress has given CDC to protect the public health.” He said it was “an important authority the Department will continue to work to preserve.” (Hollingsworth and Crawford, 4/19)
The New York Times:
Biden Administration May Appeal Mask Mandate Ruling
The Federal District Court judge in Tampa who struck down the mandate — Kathryn Kimball Mizelle — put forward a sharply constrained interpretation of the C.D.C.’s legal authority under the Public Health Service Act of 1944. If her view prevailed, the agency’s hands would be tied in future public health crises. But a ruling by a district court judge is not a binding precedent. Appealing the matter would carry the risk that the court that oversees her — the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta — could issue a ruling that constrains the agency’s future conduct at least in its region, the Southeastern United States. A majority of the judges on that circuit are also Trump appointees. (Stolberg and Savage, 4/19)
And controversy surrounds the judge who struck down the mandate —
Judge Who Tossed The Mask Mandate Misunderstood ‘Sanitation,’ Legal Experts Say
When U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle tossed out the federal government’s transportation mask mandate on Monday, she relied in part on her interpretation of the term “sanitation.” The 10-letter word can be found in the Public Health Service Act, a sprawling 1944 law that gave the federal government certain powers to respond to public health emergencies. The Biden administration relied on a piece of the Public Health Service Act to defend its COVID-19 mask mandate on airplanes and other forms of mass transit. (Hernandez and Simmons-Duffin, 4/19)
Who Is Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, The Federal Judge Who Blocked Biden’s Travel Mask Mandate?
A little-known federal judge appointed by former President Donald Trump found herself in the national spotlight on Monday after striking down the Biden administration’s public transportation mask mandate. US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle has been serving as a federal judge in Florida for more than a year. Notably, the Senate vote confirming her to the lifetime appointment came in mid-November 2020, after the presidential election. She had been given a “not qualified” rating by the American Bar Association, based on her limited amount of experience post-law school. (Stracqualursi, 4/19)
Tampa Bay Times:
5 Things To Know About Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, Tampa Judge Who Struck Down Travel Mask Mandate
The judge’s decision quickly became political fodder, with commentators left and right alternatively dishing criticism and praise. Social media critics were quick to resurrect the controversy over Mizelle’s 2020 judicial nomination. She was just 33 when appointed as a judge in the Middle District of Florida, which includes the Tampa Bay area. She had eight years of prior experience as a lawyer — judicial nominees typically have more — raising questions about her qualifications for the lifetime appointment. (Sullivan, 4/19)
The Biden administration is struggling to meet its pandemic goals —
Moving Beyond Masks: Biden Toils To Put Pandemic Behind Him
President Joe Biden’s administration has been working for months to prepare people to rethink their personal risk calculations as the nation gets used to the idea of living with an endemic COVID-19. But that measured approach disappeared abruptly when a federal judge on Monday threw out the federal requirement to mask up when using mass transit. The ruling added to the urgency of the messaging challenge as the administration tries to move past the virus in the lead-up to midterm elections. (Miller, 4/19)
While many people cheered the lifting of the masking requirement for public transportation, others are fearful that the lax rules now could lead to more cases of covid infections. Those who face higher risks say they are especially nervous.
Biden On Whether People Should Mask On Planes: ‘That’s Up To Them’
President Biden on Tuesday said whether to wear a mask on an airplane should be an individual choice after a federal judge blocked a requirement for passengers on public transportation to be masked. “Should people continue to wear masks on planes?” a reporter asked Biden during a trip to New Hampshire to promote infrastructure projects. “That’s up to them,” the president responded. (Samuels, 4/19)
Mask Mandate’s Sudden End Sparks Confusion, Mixed Messages
Biden wore a mask on Air Force One when he traveled to New Hampshire, a striking difference from the videos and images circulating of travelers taking their masks off in airports and on flights. The White House cited CDC guidance. … White House press secretary Jen Psaki pushed back on the notion that it is a confusing time for travelers. “I would dispute the notion that people are confused, we are here to alleviate their confusion. The CDC continues to advise and recommend masks on airplanes,” she said on Air Force One on Tuesday. “We’re abiding by the CDC recommendations, the president is, and we would advise all Americans to do that.” (Gangitano, 4/19)
The New York Times:
Concerns Rise As Passenger Masks Fall
Public health experts reacted with dismay to a federal judge’s ruling on Monday that struck down a mask requirement for plane, bus and train passengers, expressing concern that the case would set a precedent that erodes the authority of public health agencies and hampers their ability to respond to health emergencies. … “If this ruling stands, it could put the American public at great risk,” said Dr. Richard Besser, president and chief executive of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a former acting director of the C.D.C. He added that his concerns were less to do with the immediate consequences for mask mandates than with “the implications for future crises, of the ability to put in place simple public health measures to keep people safe.” (Rabin, 4/19)
For immunocompromised people and parents of small kids, the announcement hit hard —
America’s New Mask Divide
America has a new divide. Many joyfully embraced Tuesday as the first full day of new mask freedom. But plenty are sticking with a practice that’s now 2+ years old. … Many parents fear for their kids who are too young for vaccines. “Here we are, trapped in the sky with our 8-month-old unmasked baby,” tweeted Brooke Tansley of Nashville, who was on a plane when the rules changed mid-flight. (4/19)
The New York Times:
Americans Watch Sweeping Mask Rules Vanish, With Joy And Fear
In interviews, older Americans, people with compromised immune systems, parents with young children and low-income workers who rely on public transportation worried that they would now be at even greater risk with every bus ride or plane trip. “It’s isolating,” said Catherine Muskin, a lawyer in Ithaca, N.Y., and a mother of a 3-year-old and 20-month-old. She said the end of airline mask mandates had killed any hopes she and her husband had of flying to Florida for a vacation. “We still have our protocols and we still have our rules. But now we’re the exception.” (Healy and Smith, 4/19)
Mask Mandate Ruling Was ‘Irresponsibly Abrupt,’ Hospital Exec Says
Most health systems and physician groups are not adjusting their mask mandates after a federal judge struck down the law for airlines and public transportation. … Trinity Health’s chief clinical officer, Dr. Daniel Roth, said it jeopardizes the immunocompromised and those who can’t be vaccinated. “Trinity Health has followed guidelines from the CDC to ensure the safety of our colleagues, clinicians and patients. Yesterday’s court decision removing the requirement for face coverings on public transportation was irresponsibly abrupt and increases risk,” he said in an emailed statement. Northwell Health will not change its masking rules in clinical settings, said Dr. David Battinelli, physician-in-chief of the New York City health system. “As a clinical facility, we’re not public transportation. We’re not the airlines. To me, there’s almost no connection.” (Kacik, Christ and Abrams, 4/19)
Immunocompromised During Covid: How People Can Lower Their Risk Of Illness
As more and more Americans doff their masks, immunocompromised individuals may be concerned about their risk levels among largely unmasked crowds. … But experts say that while immunocompromised individuals do remain at a greater risk of Covid, the landscape looks much different than it did even a year ago, with a number of tools available to provide the extra protection they need. Now, options including additional vaccine doses and boosters, preventative monoclonal antibodies injections and antiviral drugs may help some immunocompromised people take steps toward resuming a more normal life. (Lovelace Jr. and Syal, 4/20)
Most airlines seem to be relieved —
The New York Times:
For Airlines, The Mask Mandate Couldn’t End Soon Enough
For flight attendants, pilots and others in the business, the mask mandate had become a source of frustration even as they acknowledged that it protected them during their extensive exposure to strangers. Flight crews had to enforce proper face coverings — a dangerous job in polarizing times. Some passengers refused to comply and became belligerent; in extreme cases, they even punched, kicked and bloodied flight attendants. “They don’t like being policemen on airplanes,” said David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue Airways and now chief executive of a new company, Breeze Airways. “It’s not something that they signed up for, and I think it creates more agitation with customers.” (Chokshi and Murphy, 4/19)
The Washington Post:
Delta Air Lines Initially Called Covid-19 An ‘Ordinary Seasonal Virus’ As Mask Mandate Was Lifted
After backlash on social media, Delta Air Lines has walked back a comment falsely claiming that the coronavirus, which continues to account for more than 35,000 new cases per day, has become “an ordinary seasonal virus.” The airline made the comment Monday in an announcement stating that it will no longer require masks — a move several U.S. airlines have made after a federal judge struck down mask mandates in public transportation settings. (Bever, 4/19)
Though the federal transportation masking requirement was tossed out by a Florida judge, health experts note it’s still advisable to wear masks on aircraft and in other places depending on the risks — because masks do reduce your chances of inhaling virus-carrying particles.
The Washington Post:
Keep Wearing Your Mask On Planes, Health Experts Say
The federal requirement to mask up on planes and other forms of transportation was tossed Monday by a federal judge in Florida. But health experts say those who want to protect themselves from the coronavirus as cases rise again should continue to cover their faces — with the best possible mask. “You can quote me on this: I’m going to continue to wear an N95 mask,” said David Freedman, professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “No question. You have no idea who’s on a plane.” He added: “I think everyone should.” (Sampson, 4/19)
Are HEPA Filters On Airplanes Enough?
Weeks before a federal judge’s ruling led U.S. airlines to drop mask mandates, airline executives argued masks no longer should be required – in part because air filtration systems on planes create “hospital-grade cabin air.” Now that masks are optional on every major U.S. airline, experts said the filters that remove 99% of particles, including viruses, will help keep transmission on flights low but won’t eliminate the risk of spreading COVID-19 that masks helped mitigate. (Kenning and Rodriguez, 4/20)
The New York Times:
Does My Mask Protect Me Against Covid-19 If Others Don’t Wear One?
On most planes, the cabin air is frequently pumped through high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters that are pretty good at reducing virus transmission. But that doesn’t completely eliminate your risk. In a modeling study published in December 2021, researchers found that passengers sitting in the same row or one row away from someone who had Covid-19 still had a high risk of being infected through direct respiratory droplets. Wearing a mask reduced the risk of infection by 54 percent. (Parker-Pope and Sheikh, 4/19)
The Wall Street Journal:
Should You Wear A Mask Anyway As Federal Mandates Are Dropped For Airports, Airlines?
Although much of the U.S. no longer requires people to wear masks in indoor public settings, there are still scenarios where wearing a mask could be beneficial, public health and infectious disease experts say. Factors that help determine whether you should consider masking include local Covid-19 levels, where you are going and your underlying health conditions. (Abbott, 4/19)
Is Wearing A Mask While Traveling Still Helpful If You’re The Only One?
Face masks offer the most protection against the spread of virus-carrying particles in the air when everyone wears them. But research also suggests that masks can protect the wearer alone, by acting as a barrier between particles and their nose and mouth. (Howard, 4/19)
EXPLAINER: What Happens In The Post-Mask World Of Travel?
Air filtration on planes is generally excellent, but boarding and exiting a plane can put people close together in spaces with poor ventilation, said Dr. Babak Javid, a physician-scientist at the University of California, San Francisco. The risk on other forms of transportation varies. Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said planes can carry the virus from place to place, but that we should be focusing more on big indoor events such as concerts and sporting events — even large weddings — where people get together and talk, shout and sing. (Koenig, 4/19)
Meanwhile, a Stateline report notes parents are concerned that optional masking at school and elsewhere is problematic for high-risk or immunocompromised children.
Disney World: Face Masks Optional For All Areas Of Resort
Walt Disney World has lifted the last of its mask requirements, meaning face coverings will be optional for visitors at all locations on the central Florida Disney property. The rule change was posted Tuesday on Disney’s website. Masks are still recommended, though not required, for guests who are not fully vaccinated in indoor locations and enclosed transportation. (4/19)
And in school mask updates —
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
MPS Reinstates Mask Requirement After Two Days Of Optional Policy
Milwaukee Public Schools announced Tuesday night that masks would again be required beginning Wednesday, after just one school-day of a mask-optional policy in the district. MPS Superintendent Keith Posley had announced in March that masks would no longer be required for staff and students beginning Monday. Students had the day off Monday but had a day of mask-optional school Tuesday. In a message to families Tuesday night, the district noted the mask requirement would be back in place Wednesday due to COVID spread in the city. (Linnane, 4/19)
Hawaii Students Must Wear Masks As Same Rule For Travel Ends
Hawaii public school students must continue wearing masks in classrooms despite state officials lifting the same rules for airports and public transportation following Monday’s federal judge decision to remove mask requirements on U.S. flights. Masks are no longer required in Hawaii airports, on city buses or in handicapped vans, but all public students will be required to wear masks through the end of the school year, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday. (4/19)
Parents Say Mask-Optional Policies Leave Out High-Risk Students
After South Carolina banned schools last spring from mandating masks, Amanda McDougald Scott removed her immunocompromised 5-year-old son from the Greenville County School District and enrolled him in a private eschool. But McDougald Scott felt strongly that public schools should be able to require masks to protect children with disabilities. So she joined eight other parents and two advocacy organizations in August in suing GOP Gov. Henry McMaster, state officials and seven other school districts over a state budget provision that prevented school districts from using state funds to impose mask mandates. After a legal battle, a federal appeals court in January allowed the provision to stand, in a victory for the state officials. (Wright, 4/19)