The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will no longer enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs, following a court ruling on the order.
It had been due to extend the Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs for a further 15 days through May 3, 2022, following a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Public Health Services Act of 1944 empowers the CDC to promulgate regulations aimed at “identifying, isolating and destroying” communicable diseases. As recently as April 13, CDC issued a new statement reminding travelers that the requirement to wear masks on public transportation remained in effect. But Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled the mandate unlawful on April 18, the day that the previous month-long extension to the mandate expired.
The lawsuit was brought by a non-profit organization known as the Health Freedom Defense Fund and two individual Florida residents. Mizelle, who was confirmed to a lifetime judgeship on U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in November 2020 and who the American Bar Association once deemed “not qualified”, ruled that the CDC failed to justify the mask mandate.
“The Mandate exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority, improperly involved the good cause
exception to notice and comment rulemaking and failed to adequately explain its decisions,” Judge Mizelle wrote in her opinion.
TSA issued a short statement following the ruling:
“Due to today’s court ruling, effective immediately, TSA will no longer enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs. TSA will also rescind the new Security Directives that were scheduled to take effect tomorrow. CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time.”
CDC continues to monitor the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, especially the BA.2 subvariant that now makes up more than 85% of U.S. cases. Since early April 2022, there have been increases in the 7-day moving average of COVID-19 cases in the United States.
A February 25 letter signed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as various travel industry associations had earlier called for the mask mandate to be relaxed for transportation. The letter, sent to Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said the U.S. is reaching an inflection point where endemic-focused policies can replace pandemic-driven restrictions.
“Given travel’s slow economic recovery, and in light of the improved public health metrics in the U.S. and medical advancements to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID-19, we encourage the Administration to immediately remove travel requirements that no longer fit with the current environment and to set clear timelines and metrics for when others will be lifted,” the letter read.
It is worth noting that airlines may set their own requirements for passengers and mask use, even when this is no longer required by TSA. However, many U.S. airlines and transportation operators have already relaxed their requirements and now state that mask wearing is optional. United Airlines has already offered to refund or travelers who no longer feel comfortable flying without the mask mandate and others may follow suit.
This story was updated on April 19 following the court ruling.