A nationwide mask mandate for airplanes and on subway trains, buses, taxis, app-based rides and at transit hubs like airports, ferry terminals, subway stations and ports remained one of the last pieces of pandemic-era public health protections as states and cities began dropping mask requirements and proof of vaccination to help curb infections.
On 18 April, US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle voided what she called an “arbitrary” and “capricious” mandate, arguing that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overstepped its authority.
Within hours of the ruling, major US airlines announced that masks were no longer required on their flights, while several public transit systems that move millions of Americans daily also dropped masking requirements.
The Justice Department’s appeal argues that the masking order from the CDC falls under its statutory authority under the Public Health Service Act to use “sanitation” and “other” similar measures during the current public health crisis, pointing to other court decisions finding that “a mask is a conventional sanitation measure.”
“There was no sound reason for the judge in this case to preempt that ruling or the similar cases that are pending within other circuits,” US attorneys wrote in their filing on 31 May.
The appeal argues that “bedrock principles of standing, equity, comity, and judicial restraint should have led the district court confine any relief” to the five plaintiffs in the case – which include anti-vaccine activist group Health Freedom Defense Fund – and not apply as a nationwide ban.
The CDC has continued to recommend that people traveling on public transit wear face coverings to reduce the risk of transmission, regardless of a mandate.
The agency currently is urging all domestic travelers to “consider getting tested as close to the time of departure as possible (no more than three days) before your trip,” according to Covid-19 guidance on its website.
Confirmed daily infections of Covid-19 have surpassed 110,000, though public health analysts expect that figure to be much higher as communities face a lack of testing or rely on unreported home tests.
Reported cases over the Memorial Day weekend easily eclipsed confirmed infections from the same period in the previous year, when infections reached roughly 20,000 a day. The spike in infections has largely been driven by a series of more-contagious variants and subvariants as the virus circulates through populations.
The nation’s death toll from the pandemic reached 1 million within the last month.