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18 Apr, 2022 20:55

US judge cancels mask mandate on planes and trains

Florida court ruling strikes down White House's Covid-19 order requiring face coverings on public transportation
US judge cancels mask mandate on planes and trains

A Florida judge has struck down the Covid-19 mandate requiring Americans to wear masks on planes and other public transportation, saying President Joe Biden’s administration overstepped its authority and failed to properly justify its decision.

US District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa made her ruling just five days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) extended its transportation mask mandate to at least May 3. She vacated the original mask order, sending it back to the CDC for “further proceedings.”

“The court concludes that the mask mandate exceeds the CDC’s statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking . . .,” the judge said in her ruling. “Accordingly, the court vacates the mandate and remands it to the CDC.”

Speaking to reporters, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the decision “disappointing.”

Biden called for compulsory mask-wearing in an executive order that he signed just one day after taking office in January 2021. The CDC published its transportation mask mandate two weeks later, without allowing for public input as normally required and without adequately explaining its reasoning, Mizelle said.

Airline industry executives have called for ending the mask order, at least partly because it contributed to a surge in violent passenger behavior. “I think lifting the mask mandate will be one step towards reestablishing civility and normal behavioral patterns on board the aircraft as well as in the airports,” Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told the Washington Post on Monday.

There have been more than 1,100 incidents involving unruly airline passengers reported to the Federal Aviation Administration so far this year, and 65% of those cases related to mask-wearing rules. More than 1,000 of last year’s cases were serious enough to necessitate an FAA investigation, compared with just 146 in 2019. Many of last year’s incidents were so bad that the FAA imposed fines exceeding $10,000, including a passenger who was ordered to pay more than $26,000 after allegedly punching a flight attendant.

Most state and local governments in the US have already lifted their orders on mask-wearing in public places. The CDC said last week’s extension of the transportation mask mandate was needed to give the agency time to assess the impact of a recent uptick in Covid-19 infections on hospitalizations.

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