The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked the Department of Justice to appeal a recent court ruling that overturned the federal mandate for masks on public transportation such as planes and buses, it announced Wednesday.
“It is an ongoing assessment by the CDC that, at this time, an order requiring masking in the internal transportation corridor remains necessary for public health,” the agency said in a statement.
A Florida federal court struck down the mask mandate on Monday, but the DOJ previously said it would challenge the decision if the public health agency instructed it.
“When people wear a well-fitting mask or respirator over their nose and mouth while traveling indoors or in public transport environments, they protect themselves and those around them, including those who are immunocompromised or not yet eligible for HIV. vaccine, and help keep travel and public transportation safer for everyone,” the CDC added in its announcement.
For now, however, many of the nation’s top transportation providers have followed the lead of the Florida court and abandoned their mask mandates.
All major US airlines have an optional mask for now, and the Amtrak rail system has also eliminated the mask requirement for passengers.
Monday’s decision by Trump nominee Kathryn Kimball Mizelle argued that the CDC overstepped its regulatory authority by requiring masks on planes, trains, buses and other forms of public transportation. Interpreting the law otherwise would give the CDC “breathtaking” power, the judge wrote in her ruling.
The arrest was the latest blow to a key point in the Biden administration’s approach to Covid.
A federal court in Texas previously blocked the government’s vaccination mandate for federal employees, although the decision was overturned on appeal.
And in January, the Supreme Court halted another Biden policy that would have seen large employers demand regular Covid vaccinations or testing.
Public health experts say wearing a mask on planes is still a valuable way to stop the spread of the coronavirus, especially considering the rise of the hypertransmissible BA.2 variant and the ongoing risks of complications from Covid for immunocompromised and unvaccinated people.
“You can quote me: I will continue to wear an N95 mask,” said David Freedman, professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The New York Times newspaper after the mandate was overturned. “Undoubtedly. You have no idea who’s on the plane… I think everyone should.”
New US Covid cases have been steadily increasing since early April to a daily average of nearly 42,000 new cases as of Tuesday, even as many cities and employers lifted their Covid precautions this spring.
These numbers are likely also underestimates, given the rise in in-home Covid testing, the results of which are not often reported to public health officials.