CDC concludes a mask mandate is still needed for travelers, clearing way for court battle

By: - April 20, 2022 9:08 pm

A sign outside the Richmond registrar’s office, an early voting site, encourages people to wear masks and practice social distancing. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The Biden administration will fight a court decision for the authority to mandate masks on airplanes, trains and other public transit, following a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation Wednesday night that a mandate was still needed.

The CDC said in a statement that the mandate keeps transportation safer for immunocompromised people and the greater public.

“CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in all indoor public transportation settings,” the agency said. “As we have said before, wearing masks is most beneficial in crowded or poorly ventilated locations, such as the transportation corridor.”

The U.S. Justice Department filed a notice of appeal late Wednesday afternoon challenging the Monday ruling from U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle that struck down the mandate because she found the CDC lacked the legal authority to impose it.

The CDC said Wednesday the mandate had been “well within” its legal authority.

The Justice Department said Tuesday it would appeal the decision only if the CDC determined a mandate was necessary.

Mizelle’s ruling came just days after the CDC extended the mandate until May 3. The agency had said it needed to review public health conditions to determine if the requirement was needed after that.

Then-President Donald Trump appointed Mizelle to a federal judgeship in Florida and the Republican Senate confirmed her 49-41  following the 2020 election.

The American Bar Association rated Mizelle, then 33, “not qualified” because she lacked the 12 years of trial experience the professional organization considered to be a minimum requirement.

Before Wednesday’s CDC announcement, President Joe Biden and the administration had sent mixed signals about masking on transportation. Biden told a reporter who asked if passengers should still mask up that it was “up to them.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Biden was answering the question “quite literally” because the mandate was not being enforced. The administration still recommended people wear masks while traveling, she said.

The mandate remained in effect Wednesday evening. An appeals court could issue an emergency order to resume the mandate, but the administration had yet to ask for such an order.

Most major airlines have made masking optional since Monday’s ruling. Local transit authorities are making their own decisions.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.