Justice Department Appeals Ruling On Transportation Mask Mandate

The mask requirement "remains necessary for the public health," the CDC told the Justice Department.

At the urging of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Justice on Wednesday filed a notice of appeal to a federal judge’s ruling that overturned the federal mask mandates on airplanes and other modes of public transportation that had been designed to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

Shortly before the DOJ’s announcement, the CDC issued a statement saying it had urged the department to file the appeal now instead of waiting until next month.

“It is CDC’s continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health,” the agency said in a statement, adding that it believes it is “well within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.”

On Tuesday, the Justice Department said it was prepared to proceed with an appeal on May 3 ― the date the mask order was scheduled to expire until a Florida judge interfered ― if the CDC believed the mask ordinance should continue.

But the CDC made it clear Wednesday that the proposed timeline would not be sufficient, especially amid the emergence of the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus, which scientists are still studying.

“As we have said before, wearing masks is most beneficial in crowded or poorly ventilated locations, such as the transportation corridor,” the agency said in its statement. Requiring people to wear a mask in such settings helps ”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,” the CDC added.

The decision to lift the federal mask mandate, which has been in effect since the early days of the pandemic, came Monday from U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a Donald Trump nominee. In her 59-page ruling, she determined that the ordinance exceeded the authority of U.S. health officials, saying they may not “act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends.”

Most major U.S. airlines and many airports lifted the mask mandate immediately after her ruling, with some doing so mid-flight. Amtrak, Uber and other major transit providers did the same.

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