NEWS

Major Travel Authorities Drop Mask Mandate Following Court Ruling

united airlines mask mandate

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

UPDATE

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice appealed the ruling that struck down the mask mandate. However, it did not issue a stay to put the travel mask mandate back into effect.

Key Takeaways

  • A federal judge in Florida struck down the CDC mask mandate for travel on Monday.
  • Since then, many travel authorities from airlines to buses have stopped requiring masks.
  • Public health experts have voiced concerns over the sudden end to mask mandates as COVID-19 cases have been steadily increasing.
  • The DOJ is appealing the ruling.

The federal mask mandate for public transportation abruptly ended on Monday after a Florida judge declared the rule unconstitutional.

Almost 15 months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) implemented an order requiring masks on airplanes, trains, buses, and transportation hubs, the mandate is no longer effective. However, individual airlines and local agencies may uphold their requirements.

Multiple airlines have dropped mask requirements, as have several local transportation agencies and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

Among those dropping mask mandates are Washington D.C.’s Metro and Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). SEPTA stopped requiring masks a day after Philadelphia’s mayor’s office brought back mask mandates for other public indoor areas, including restaurants and stores.

New York City’s public transit system has kept its mask mandate in place.

With an uptick of COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron BA.2 variant, lifting mask mandates now is “unfortunate timing,” according to Charles Miramonti, MD, senior medial director at Oak Street Health.

“At times like these, where the mandates change, and the behavior of those around us in our community is going to change, it just becomes even more important to get vaccinated,” Miramonti told Verywell.

At Oak Street, Miramonti works with older adult patients, who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. While he does not discourage patients from taking public transportation, he recommends continuing to wear masks and making sure they are fully vaccinated and boosted to the extent possible.

The public has mixed reactions to the lifting of the mandate. Some heard the news while they were onboard a plane and applauded it, while others expressed disappointment or fear.

Some health workers, too, have taken to social media to criticize the change, noting that the court order to cease mask mandates poses risks to immunocompromised people and young children who are not yet eligible to get vaccinated.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who struck down the mask mandate, was criticized for lacking necessary experience before she was nominated for her role, according to NPR. Mizelle was also said to have “espoused extreme right-wing views” during her tenure.

The CDC’s authority may also be in jeopardy as a result of this court order. Meghan Fitzgerald, RN, MPH, DrPH, an adjunct associate professor with the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, wrote in an email to Verywell that the change has “usurped” the agency’s credibility.

“After two years of mixed messaging this was the death blow,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Aside from the global vaccine rollout, communication continues to be handled so poorly.”

Miramonti added that this the time for healthcare workers to once again step up and promote correct public health messaging.

“It’s one of those times when the healthcare sector has to speak up a little more loudly,” he said.

What This Means For You

Many but not all public transportation agencies and airlines removed mandatory mask requirements after a federal judged deemed the restrictions unconstitutional. People may still choose to wear masks on transportation, and public health experts encourage vaccinations and boosters for maximum protection against COVID-19.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

By Claire Wolters
Claire Wolters is a Philly-based reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.