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White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that federal agencies were still assessing a Florida federal judge’s decision on Monday that voided the national mask mandate covering airlines and other public transportation.
Watch Psaki’s remarks in the player above.
“This is obviously a disappointing decision,” Psaki said. “The CDC is recommending wearing a mask on public transit.”
The federal judge voided the mandate covering as exceeding the authority of U.S. health officials in their response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The mandate, recently extended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, covered a vast array of transportation, from airplanes and trains to city subways and ride-sharing vehicles such as Uber.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, also said the CDC improperly failed to justify its decision and did not follow proper rulemaking procedures that left it fatally flawed.
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 judge said “a limited remedy would be no remedy at all” and courts have full authority to make a decision such as this — even if the goals of the CDC in fighting the virus are laudable.
“Because our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends, the court declares unlawful and vacates the mask mandate,” she wrote.
The Justice Department declined to comment Monday when asked if the government planned to appeal the ruling. The CDC also declined to comment.
READ MORE: CDC extends public transit mask requirement to May 3 as COVID cases tick up
The CDC recently 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.
The mandate covered all types of transportation in the U.S. as well as requiring masks in any transportation hub, such as an airport, seaport or bus terminal. It wasn’t immediately clear Monday whether or not some of these entities would continue to require masks on their own.
United Airlines told employees that the mask rule remains in effect while federal officials decide how to respond to the judge’s ruling. Other airlines and their trade group, Airlines for America, did not immediately respond to requests for comment after the ruling was released.
The Association of Flight Attendants, the nation’s largest union of cabin crews, has recently taken a neutral position on the mask rule because its members are divided about the issue. On Monday, the union’s president appealed for calm on planes and in airports.
The federal mask requirement for travelers was the target of months of lobbying from the airlines, which sought to kill it. The carriers argued that effective air filters on modern planes make transmission of the virus during a flight highly unlikely. Republicans in Congress also fought to kill the mandate.
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.
There have been a series of violent incidents on aircraft that have mainly been attributed to disputes over the mask-wearing requirements.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2021 by two plaintiffs and the Health Freedom Defense Fund, described in the judge’s order as a nonprofit group that “opposes laws and regulations that force individuals to submit to the administration of medical products, procedures and devices against their will.”
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