Cheers, fright when judges mandate US transit masks

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A federal judge’s decision to revoke the national mask mandate was met with cheers on some planes but also concerns about whether it really is time to end one of the most visible vestiges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Major airlines and many of the busiest airports rushed to scrap their requirements on Monday after the Transportation Security Administration announced it would not enforce its January 2021 security directive that applies to airplanes, airports, taxis and other mass transit.

But the decision still gives the entity the option to keep their mask rule, resulting in a directive that can vary from city to city.

Passengers on a United Airlines flight from Houston to New York, for example, can throw away their masks at the departure airport and on the plane, but must put them back on once they land at Kennedy Airport or take the subway.

In the 59-page ruling, US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its authority in issuing the original health order on which the TSA directives were based. He also said the order was fatally flawed because the CDC did not follow proper rule-making procedures.

Mizelle, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, said the only solution was to discard the mandate for the entire country because it was impossible to end it only for people who objected to the lawsuit.

The White House said the mask order was “not in effect at this time” and called the court’s decision disappointing.

The Justice Department declined to comment on whether it would seek an emergency adjournment to block the judge’s order. The CDC also declined to comment.

United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines quickly announced that they were lifting the mask requirement for domestic flights and some international flights. So did American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways.

Sleepy passengers on a Delta flight between Atlanta and Barcelona, ​​Spain, cheered, whistled and clapped when a flight attendant announced the news mid-flight over the ocean.

“Nobody is happier than us,” the flight attendant said in a video posted by Dillon Thomas, a CBS Denver reporter, who was on the flight. He added that people who wished to continue wearing masks were encouraged to do so.

“But we are ready to hand them over,” he added. “So thanks and happy unmasking day!”

Major airports dropped their requirements but sided with the CDC in recommending that people voluntarily wear masks. They include Los Angeles International Airport, the world’s fifth busiest by passenger volume, and Salt Lake City International Airport, which announced it would be handing out masks to anyone who requested them.

New York City’s public transit system plans to keep the mask requirement in place. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said it would make masks optional for riders on buses and trains.

The websites of ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber on Monday night still said masks were needed.

The CDC recently extended the mask mandate, which was due to expire Monday, through May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariance of the coronavirus that now accounts for the vast majority of cases in the US. the decision was withheld.

Since the pandemic began two years ago, many state or local governments have issued various orders requiring masks to be worn inside schools, restaurants, shops or elsewhere. The rules were largely scrapped as the deadliest and most contagious months of the pandemic eased.

But national rules for travelers remain and are arguably the most widespread, visible and obnoxious measure of its kind.

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The wearing of masks aboard planes sparked a flurry of fire online between those who felt it was important to protect people and those who saw it as an unnecessary inconvenience or even government overkill.

Some flight attendants find themselves cursed and even attacked by passengers who refuse to comply.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2021 by the two plaintiffs and the Health Freedom Defense Fund, described in the judge’s order as a non-profit group that “opposes laws and regulations that force individuals to submit to the administration of medical products, procedures, and devices against their will.” . .”

Republicans in Congress are waging a battle to kill the mandate.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who was not directly involved in the case but has battled many of the government’s coronavirus requirements, praised the decision.

“Both airline employees and passengers deserve an end to this misery,” DeSantis tweeted.

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