A federal judge in Florida has voided the national mask mandate covering airplanes and other public transportation as exceeding the authority of U.S. health officials in the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision Monday by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention improperly failed to justify its decision and did not follow proper rulemaking.
In her 59-page ruling, Mizelle said the only remedy was to vacate the rule entirely across the country because it would be impossible to end it for the limited group of people who objected in the lawsuit.
The CDC initially extended the mask mandate, which was set to expire Monday, until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant of the coronavirus that is now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the U.S.
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Critics have seized on the fact that states have rolled back rules requiring masks in restaurants, stores and other indoor settings, and yet COVID-19 cases have fallen sharply since the omicron variant peaked in mid-January.
The Transportation Security Administration said that they will "no long er enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs." The TSA added that it won't go through with new directives that were scheduled to take effect on April 19.
But what does the latest ruling mean for the transportation agencies in the tri-state area? Here is where local public transit agencies stand when it comes to mask requirements on following news of the federal judge striking down the CDC mask mandate:
PORT AUTHORITY AIRPORTS AND BUSES
The Port Authority said it would follow the guidelines of local authorities -- which means as of now, masks are required at JFK, LaGuardia and Stewart airports, but NOT required at Newark Liberty or Teterboro.
Masks also remain required at the Midtown Bus Terminal, the GWB Bus Station, the Oculus, and on the PATH.
The MTA, which oversees the New York City subway and bus system, as well as Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road, said that mask requirements will continue to be enforced.
"The mask requirement on public transit in NY remains in effect for now pursuant to a March 2, 2022 determination by the New York State Department of Health," MTA Communications Director Tim Minton told News 4 New York.
The agency said earlier that they would continue to follow CDC guidelines.
After initially saying that masks would continue to be required aboard their trains, Amtrak later reversed course and stated that they would be optional for workers and travelers.
"While Amtrak passengers and employee are not longer required to wear masks while on board trains or in stations, masks are welcome and remain an important preventative measure against COVID-19," Amtrak said in a statement. "Anyone needing or choosing to wear one is encouraged to do so."
NJ Transit told NBC New York on Monday afternoon they would continue to require masks onboard their transportation - but by Tuesday morning Gov. Phil Murphy announced a change of plans.
The NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission, the city agency responsible for licensing and regulating New York City's Medallion (yellow) taxi cabs, for-hire vehicles (community-based liveries, black cars and luxury limousines), commuter vans, and paratransit vehicles, announced Tuesday that masks are still required in all of their vehicles.
UBER & LYFT (IN NYC)
However, TLC’s mask requirement remains in effect for all taxis and for-hire vehicles -- which Uber and Lyft fall under. With that in mind, the TLC mask mandate (see NYC TAXIS section above) continues to apply to them in New York City. Uber and Lyft state in some of their messaging that masks may still be required in certain jurisdictions, so while they changed their own policy, they are still subject to state and local laws and regulations.
PATH will require masks, including on trains, at stations and on platforms, except where those platforms are open-air.
The bus company said in a statement that they will continue "to follow federal guidelines requiring customers wear face masks while in transit."
Masks will not be required on NY Waterway ferries, buses or in terminals. However, there is an exception:
- NY Waterway operates 2 Hudson Valley lines under contract with the MTA, which are subject to the MTA's rules. On those routes (Newburgh-Beacon and Haverstraw-Ossining) masks are still required by the MTA.
Mask use is still required on the NYC Ferry.