WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department is filing a lawsuit seeking to overturn a judge’s order that struck down the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and at travel centers, officials said Wednesday.
The notice came minutes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked the Justice Department to appeal the ruling by a federal judge in Florida earlier this week.
A notice of appeal has been filed in federal court in Tampa.
The CDC said in a statement Wednesday that it is its “continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the domestic transportation corridor remains necessary for public health.”
It was unclear whether the Biden administration would ask the appeals court to grant an emergency stay to immediately reimpose the mask mandate on public transportation. An emergency stay of the lower court’s decision would be a boost for travelers and transit workers. Most airlines and airports, many transit systems and even ride-sharing company Uber lifted their mask-wearing requirements within hours of Monday’s decision.
A federal judge in Florida struck down the nation’s mass transit mask mandate on Monday, leading airlines and airports to swiftly repeal their requirements that passengers wear face coverings. The Transportation Security Administration said Monday it would no longer enforce the mask requirement.
The CDC had recently extended the mandate for the mask, which was due to expire on Monday, until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 omicron subvariant, which is now responsible for the vast majority of cases in the United States. . But the court ruling on Monday suspended that decision.
The CDC said it will continue to monitor public health conditions to determine if a warrant remains necessary. He said he believed the warrant was “a lawful order, well within the CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.”
Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said Wednesday evening that the department is filing the appeal “in light of today’s assessment by the CDC that an order requiring masking in the hallway transport remains necessary to protect public health”.
The Biden administration offered mixed messages following Monday’s decision. While officials have said Americans should heed CDC guidance even if it’s no longer a requirement, Biden himself has suggested they have more flexibility to mask up while in transit.
“It’s up to them,” Biden said during a Tuesday visit to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The White House nonetheless continues to require face coverings for those traveling with him on Air Force One, citing advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Biden always encourages Americans to wear masks when traveling and that he had “literally answered the question” the day before.
“People are not legally required to wear masks,” she said after the court order. “So it’s a time where it’s up to people – it’s their choice, in that regard.
After a winter surge fueled by the omicron variant that caused record hospitalizations, the United States has seen a significant drop in the spread of the virus in recent months, leading most states and cities to drop mask mandates.
But several cities in the Northeast have seen an increase in hospitalizations in recent weeks, leading Philadelphia to bring back its mask mandate.
The call drew criticism from the US Travel Association, which along with other industry groups had been lobbying the Biden administration for months to end the travel mask mandate.
“Masks were critically important at the height of the pandemic,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, the group’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy, “but with low hospitalization rates and multiple tools Effective health care now widely available, from boosters to therapies to high-quality air ventilation on airplanes, mandatory masking on public transport is simply out of step with the current public health landscape.