Now We’re Getting Rid of Masks on Planes—Just as Covid Is Spiking Again

A federal judge struck down the CDC’s mask mandate for public travel.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

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Gear up for another round of mass pandemic chaos.

Not even a week after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended its masks mandate for public travel—a move that reflected rising Covid trends from the BA.2 subvariant—a federal judge in Florida has struck down the order, sending airlines and other public transportation hubs into confusion.

It wasn’t immediately clear on Monday how soon masks would no longer be required or whether the Biden administration would seek to appeal. (My colleague Jeremy Schulman happened to be boarding a plane when he was alerted to the court ruling and has promised to keep us abreast of how the surprise change will affect compliance!)  In her ruling, Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle wrote that the CDC’s order exceeded the statutory authority and violated administrative law.

The CDC had previously extended the federal mask mandate to stay in effect until May 3 in order to monitor how the omicron subvariant BA.2 would transpire across the country. (Coincidentally, the requirement had been set to expire today.) The Northeast in particular has seen cases tick up significantly, with New York and New Jersey seeing average daily cases climb by an alarming 64 percent over the past week.

For transportation workers concerned about the rising numbers Monday order is likely to come as a distressing development. But it could also be welcomed by some, particularly airline staff, who have been under immense pressure since the start of the pandemic to get anti-mask passengers to comply with CDC rules. Personally, I see this as potentially setting the stage for a whole new wave of conflicts, with those opposed to masks confronting those who still choose to wear them.

Either way, don’t say I didn’t warn you. More chaos ahead. Beep beep!

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