First there was “Florida Man,” now there’s Florida Judge.
Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a U.S. District Judge in Tampa ruled on Monday that the Centers for Disease Control’s current national requirement that masks be worn on airplanes and public transit is unlawful, and directed the CDC to reverse its policy.
“The agencies are reviewing the decision and assessing potential next steps. In the meantime, today’s court decision means CDC’s public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time. Therefore, TSA will not enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation hubs at this time,” the official reportedly said.
Following that announcement, the five largest U.S. airlines dropped their mandatory mask policies immediately. American Airlines, Alaska Air, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines have all declared that masks are now optional for both passengers and staff. Reports circulated on Twitter that some airline captains were announcing the end of mask mandates mid-flight.
Uber has also gotten rid of its mask mandate for riders and drivers. The ride share company did note that the CDC still recommends wearing a mask if you have certain personal risk factors and/or high transmission levels in your area. Uber went on to say that many people still feel safer wearing a mask and that riders can always cancel a trip if they feel uncomfortable.
The mask requirement on planes, trains, and public buses had been in effect since February 1, 2021 and was set to expire on April 18, 2022–the same day Mizelle issued her ruling. However last week, the CDC extended the mask order through May 3 in response to the current rise in covid-19 cases.
The lawsuit was first filed in July 2021 and was brought against the Biden administration by two individuals and the Health Freedom Defense Fund. The “fund” is a non-profit that’s been around since August 2020 and has filed more than 10 suits against vaccine and mask mandates around the country.
Mizelle, who was appointed by Former President Donald Trump, hinged her ruling, in part, on a semantic argument, Bloomberg Law reports. Mizell’s ruling claims that the CDC categorized masks as “sanitation” in order to pass the transportation order via the Public Health Services Act of 1944, but that masks do not fall under “sanitation.” “Wearing a mask cleans nothing,” the judge wrote in the ruling. “At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance.”
The ruling also includes testimony by two individuals, Ana Carolina Daza and Sarah Pope, who claim wearing masks on planes worsened their anxiety and caused panic attacks.
Public transit and planes were the last places where masking had still been enforced across the U.S., and the transportation mandate was one of a dwindling number of mask orders. Hawaii, the last state to have a mask requirement for public places, lifted that order on March 26, 2022. And smaller-scale mask mandates have largely disappeared from school districts and cities around the country.
Though Philadelphia, at least, recently brought a citywide mask mandate back only two months after lifting it. It’s unclear whether other major cities will do the same as Covid-19 cases tick back up after a brief lull following the first, massive Omicron wave.
Health experts predicted the current rise in new coronavirus cases based on wastewater data weeks ago, and the forecasted trend has become reality. Reported case numbers have risen 39% over the past two weeks, according to The New York Times dashboard. Hospitalizations have also begun to rise in New England, New York, the Mid-Atlantic and elsewhere, as BA.2 and other ultra-contagious variants spread.
Update 4/19/2022, 8:37 a.m. ET: This post has been updated with responses from the Biden Administration, airlines, and Uber.