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Justice Department appeals ruling lifting transit mask mandate after CDC request

“At this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health,” the CDC said Wednesday.
/ Source: NBC News

The Justice Department has moved to appeal a ruling that struck down the federal mask mandate on planes, trains and transit systems after a request by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC said, in a statement Wednesday, that “at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health,” adding that it has asked the DOJ to proceed with an appeal.

Image: Florida Judge Overturns CDC's Travel Mask Mandate
Airline passengers without face masks prepare to enter a security checkpoint at San Francisco International Airport on April 19, 2022 in San Francisco.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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The DOJ has not asked the appeals court to block the judge’s order that lifted the federal mask mandate on transit systems, meaning passengers will be able to continue traveling maskless while the decision is litigated.

The DOJ announced earlier this week that it would appeal the ruling if the CDC decides that masks on are still required on public transportation for public health.

“As we have said before, wearing masks is most beneficial in crowded or poorly ventilated locations, such as the transportation corridor,” the CDC said Wednesday. “When people wear a well-fitting mask or respirator over their nose and mouth in indoor travel or public transportation settings, they protect themselves, and those around them, including those who are immunocompromised or not yet vaccine-eligible, and help keep travel and public transportation safer for everyone.”

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled that the travel mask mandate was unlawful, arguing that the CDC had overstepped its legal authority by imposing the mandate in February 2021.

The mandate, which was rolled out to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, had recently been extended to May 3 before it was struck down.

Because of the ruling, the White House said the Transportation Security Administration will no longer enforce masking on public transport and in transportation hubs.

Several airlines, including United, Delta, and American, have issued statements saying masks are now optional.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a news conference Wednesday that the Biden administration is “deferring to the CDC on what they believe is needed at this moment.”

The agency extended the mandate “because they felt they needed to take a look at the data, given that we’ve seen a rise in cases,” Psaki said, noting that the DOJ had signaled it would appeal the judge’s decision to empower the CDC during the public health crisis.

“We want to preserve that authority for the CDC to have in the future,” she said.

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