White House press secretary Jen Psaki said a federal judge’s ruling in Florida ending the mask mandate on public transportation is a “disappointing decision.”
“We also think the mask mandate should be in place and that it’s safer for individuals who are flying to continue to wear masks,” Psaki told reporters Monday following the judge’s ruling. “So we would say to anyone sitting out there: We’d recommend you wear masks on the airplane.”
Psaki added that the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will review the judge’s decision, and the Department of Justice will determine whether to appeal.
U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, nominated by former President Donald Trump, said mask requirements meant as public health safeguards during the coronavirus pandemic exceeded the CDC’s authority.
“Because our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends, the court declares unlawful and vacates the mask mandate,” Mizelle wrote in a 59-page ruling.
Psaki said the Biden administration disagrees with the judge’s reasoning.
Transportation carriers quickly reacted. Major U.S. airlines, Amtrak and Uber dropped their mask requirements. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority said its mask mandate remains in place.
The change in rules caught some passengers mid-flight. A clip posted on social media shows people clapping following an onboard announcement telling them they were no longer required to mask up.
The CDC, which continues to recommend mask-wearing aboard public transportation despite the ruling, last week extended a national mask mandate until May 3 as the spread of the BA.2 variant continues driving an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
“In order to assess the potential impact the rise of cases has on severe disease, including hospitalizations and deaths, and health care system capacity, the CDC order will remain in place at this time,” the CDC said when it extended the mandate.
“They made it very clear that they needed 15 days to assess the impact of BA.2 on hospitalizations, deaths, to see if there’s a substantial increase in severe disease,” Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “My expectation is that we’re going to gather that data and within a couple weeks, we’re going to make a more durable decision.”
Jha added that COVID-19 remains a “real challenge” for the country.
“The pandemic is not over,” Jha told George Stephanopoulos. “As much as we wish it were, we’re in much better shape, but we have to keep plugging away at managing the virus to get back to our lives.”