The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday said that it still recommends that people wear masks on planes, trains, airports, and other modes of public transportation, despite a court last month ruling against the agency’s rule.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said last month, following the court ruling, that it will no longer enforce the CDC’s masking order for airports and planes, meaning that Tuesday’s recommendation from the CDC has no teeth.
Americans aged 2 and older should wear masks inside public transportation, including within airports and stations, said the CDC in its recommendation. It claimed that the current spread of COVID-19 is the reason why masks should be worn.
Data from the agency show that COVID-19 cases have trended slightly higher across the United States in recent days, but the numbers are still far, far lower than the recent peak in mid-January, when the 7-day average was about 800,000 cases per day. As of May 1, CDC data shows that the seven-day average stands at around 57,000 new cases reported per day nationwide.
“CDC continues to recommend that all people—passengers and workers, alike—properly wear a well-fitting mask or respirator in indoor public transportation conveyances and transportation hubs to provide protection for themselves and other travelers in these high volume, mixed population settings,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky in a statement Tuesday. “We now have a range of tools we need to protect ourselves from the impact of COVID-19, including access to high-quality masks and respirators for all who need them.”
Wearing a mask in public transportation settings, she added, “will provide protection for the individual and the community.”
The CDC’s mandate, before the order was handed down, had been scheduled to expire at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, May 3 unless the CDC tried to obtain a new extension. The CDC had repeatedly extended the rule, although it was not clear whether it would allow it to expire before last month’s ruling.
In April, the Department of Justice filed a notice saying it will appeal U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle’s earlier order that struck down the CDC’s mask rule. The federal government has not made an effort so far to seek immediate action to bring back the mandate.
Mizelle, a Trump appointee based in Florida, had argued that the CDC’s mandate, which was crafted in January 2021, violated several elements of federal administrative law. Hours after her order was issued, the TSA said it would no longer enforce the CDC mandate, and major airlines as well as Amtrak said they wouldn’t require passengers or staff to wear masks.
In spite of the ruling, however, several major cities, including Los Angeles and New York, have kept their respective mask mandates for public transportation. On April 21, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a statement that “masking continues to be required” on public transportation, while the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City said on April 19 that passengers on subways, taxis, and buses still have to wear masks.