Mask mandate for travelers no longer in effect

By Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 8:28 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022
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3:51 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Travel mask mandate should continue while awaiting CDC data, health officials' group says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Airline passengers walk through San Francisco International Airport on April 19.
Airline passengers walk through San Francisco International Airport on April 19. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials' chief medical officer tells CNN that travel mask mandates should continue — at least for a little longer until the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more data on the spread of the BA.2 subvariant.

On Monday, a federal judge in Florida struck down the Biden administration’s nationwide mask mandate for airplanes and other public transportation, and the mandate is no longer in effect while the ruling is reviewed. Last week, the CDC extended this mask mandate through May 3. 

"We think that mask-wearing on interstate transportation is still an important intervention that's worth continuing," said Dr. Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO).

"What the Centers for Disease Control has stated was that they had some studies and some data that they expected were going to be coming available in the next couple of weeks that would allow them to make a more definitive decision about this," Plescia said Tuesday. "It would have been sensible just to wait a couple more weeks and see, do we have a little more information here? Can we make a decision that's more science-based? And that might have been a decision that we could scale back — I don't know — but it seems a little imprudent to not have waited."

Plescia added, "The biggest concern is, we want people to be safe and we're concerned that we're not through the pandemic yet as much as people want to be, and (Covid-19) rates are starting to tick back up."

4:11 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Passengers still required to wear masks on Air Force One today after ruling striking down mandate

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez and Kevin Liptak

The White House is once again playing catch-up on how to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic after a court ruling struck down the Biden administration's mask mandate on planes, trains and other forms of public transportation.

The evolving situation was on display Tuesday as passengers on President Biden's trip aboard Air Force One to New Hampshire were required to wear masks while, at the same time, commercial airline passengers across the United States were stepping into plane cabins with the option to forgo a mask.

A White House aide said ahead of Biden's flight to New Hampshire that masking would be required "in line with" guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The President boarded the aircraft Tuesday afternoon sporting a black mask. 

But despite the rules on Air Force One, Biden told reporters upon his arrival in New Hampshire that it's up to Americans to decide whether to still wear masks on planes, saying, "That's up to them."

Administration officials had been caught by surprise when the judge in Florida struck down the requirement, which had been in place for 441 days.

Suddenly, a decision administration officials had been contemplating for weeks — whether American travelers must wear masks — was made urgent and complicated by US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who was selected by Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump.

The order was parsed by lawyers at the White House, Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the agency that had been responsible for enforcing the rules. As they digested the 59-page ruling, it wasn't clear whether passengers sitting in airports or aboard airplanes at 30,000 feet could remove their face coverings without running afoul of federal rules.

Airlines, which had been lobbying the administration for weeks to lift the mandates, sought guidance from the government on what exactly they should tell crews and passengers, whose phones were lighting up with news of the ruling.

Read more:

2:59 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022

White House Covid-19 coordinator: CDC should've been given more time to study masking before lifting mandate

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

The White House Covid-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha says the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "should have been given" an additional 15 days to study masking on airlines before lifting a federal mandate.

A federal judge in Florida struck down on Monday the Biden administration’s mask mandate for airplanes and other public transport methods, and a Biden administration official says the order is no longer in effect while the ruling is reviewed.

“24 hours ago, a federal judge vacated @CDCgov mask mandate on airplanes,” Jha wrote on Twitter.

“This was deeply disappointing,” he continued. “CDC scientists had asked for 15 days to make a more data-driven durable decision.”

“We should have given it to them,” he concluded. “But I'll continue to follow CDC guidance & mask up on planes.”

The White House said earlier Tuesday that the Justice Department was still reviewing a federal judge’s decision to strike down the mask mandate on transportation. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted the “CDC continues to advise and recommend masks on airplanes. We're abiding by the CDC recommendations, the President is, and we would advise all Americans to do that.”

Later, President Biden said it was up to each American to decide whether to wear a mask on a plane.

See the tweet:

4:49 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Biden says it's up to travelers whether to wear masks on planes 

From CNN's DJ Judd

President Joe Biden wears a mask as he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Tuesday.
President Joe Biden wears a mask as he boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Tuesday. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Upon arriving to New Hampshire, President Biden answered two questions about a Monday ruling overturning his administration’s mask mandate on mass transit.

Pressed on if people should still wear masks on planes, Biden told reporters, “That’s up to them.”

Asked in New Hampshire if he wants the Department of Justice to appeal the new mask ruling, Biden said, “I haven’t spoken to the CDC yet.”

And when later pressed on the trip about whether there would be an appeal, Biden repeated, “I haven’t gotten any brief from my CDC. I don’t know. We’re following the science.”

2:01 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022

White House says Biden administration is "reviewing next steps" following ruling overturning mask mandate

From CNN's DJ Judd

White House press secretary Jen Psaki wouldn’t say if the Department of Justice plans to challenge a federal judge’s ruling overturning the mask mandate for mass transportation Tuesday, instead telling reporters the administration is “reviewing next steps.” 

“I don’t think they’ve made any announcement at this point in time, so, as we’ve said, agencies are reviewing next steps, including the Department of Justice, traditionally following court decisions, that can take a couple of days,” Psaki told reporters traveling with the President to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on board Air Force One.

“And just as a reminder, when we made this announcement, the CDC said it needed 15 days to assess the impacts of an uptick in cases, in hospitalizations, deaths, and hospital capacity. We feel—still feel—that is entirely reasonable and public health decisions shouldn’t be made by the courts, they should be made by public health experts," she continued.

Psaki added that it “typically takes a couple of days,” for the DOJ to review and file a motion to appeal a judge’s ruling, but that the administration was “confident in our authorities,” to impose the federal mask mandate in the first place.

She said the DOJ “haven’t made that decision [to appeal] yet, and it takes a couple days, some time to make that assessment.”

Psaki dismissed charges that the judge’s ruling Monday led to confusion in enforcement.

“I would discount the notion that people are confused, we are here to alleviate the confusion, right? So, the CDC continues to advise and recommend masks on airplanes,” she said. “We’re abiding by the CDC recommendations, the President is, and we would advise all Americans to do that. This is a ruling by the court, we obviously didn’t have advance notice of it, and it typically takes a couple of days to assess next steps in these cases.”

 

2:53 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Port Authority of NY and NJ lifts mask mandate in one state but not the other

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia and Rob Frehse

Mass transit riders wear masks as they commute thru the Oculus in Manhattan on Tuesday.
Mass transit riders wear masks as they commute thru the Oculus in Manhattan on Tuesday. (John Minchillo/AP)

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced adjusted mask guidance following the federal ruling, keeping masks in New York facilities but lifting the mandate in New Jersey facilities, in line with state guidelines.

In New York at airports run by the Port Authority, including LaGuardia Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport, as well as various bus stations and the World Trade Center Oculus transportation hub, mask mandates remain in effect, a statement from the agency said. 

According to the statement, the mandate remains in effects at the following locations: 

  • Port Authority Midtown Bus Terminal 
  • George Washington Bridge Bus Station
  • World Trade Center Oculus Transportation Hub
  • LaGuardia Airport
  • JFK International Airport
  • New York Stewart International Airport

At New Jersey airports run by the Port Authority, including Newark Liberty International Airport and Teterboro Airport, the mask mandate has been lifted, the statement said.

The mask mandate remains in effect for the PATH system that runs through both states, including stations and platforms, with the exception of open-air platforms.

12:02 p.m. ET, April 19, 2022

Watch the moment a flight crew announces the federal mandate has been lifted before plane's departure

From CNN’s Caroll Alvarado 

Dave Studinski was on a Delta flight Monday evening from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City to San Francisco International Airport when a crew member announced that masks will be optional for crew members and passengers.

During the announcement, the crew member also said “it is a cause to celebrate, but for those who want to wear masks, please feel free to, but it is optional.” 

Studinski told CNN the following about his reaction:

“Admittedly, it is quite the moment to be sitting there hearing and experiencing. You're one of the first flights to take off under that new change. You catch yourself mid-flight with the mask off and panic a second in guilt. Reminds me of when we could start listening to personal devices above/below 10,000 feet.”

In a separate tweet, Studinski said, "On this day last year, I was isolating because of a breakthrough COVID-19 infection. It was a little more than a month after my J&J poke. Symptoms were quite mild - I was fortunate. The vaccines work."

11:52 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

CDC says it will not enforce mask order, but continues to recommend masks on public transportation

From CNN's Brenda Goodman

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it will not enforce a travel mask order, but it will continue to recommend masks on public transportation.

CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund on Tuesday issued the following statement to CNN after a federal judge in Florida ruled that the agency’s order requiring masks on public transportation was unlawful:

“As a result of a court order, effective immediately and as of April 18, 2022, CDC’s January 29, 2021 Order requiring masks on public transportation conveyances and at transportation hubs is no longer in effect. Therefore, CDC will not enforce the Order. CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time.”

11:47 a.m. ET, April 19, 2022

White House pushes back on Delta Air Lines' characterization of Covid-19 

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Delta Airlines jets are seen behind travelers passing through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on April 11.
Delta Airlines jets are seen behind travelers passing through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on April 11. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

The White House is pushing back on Delta Air Lines after the company referred to Covid-19 as an "ordinary seasonal virus" in its post announcing that masks are optional on its flights.

The original post read: "We are relieved to see the U.S. mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel and COVID-19 has transitioned to an ordinary seasonal virus.”

A White House spokesperson for Covid issues, Kevin Munoz, replied "COVID is not an “ordinary seasonal virus” and linked to Biden's 100-page Covid preparedness plan.

As of 10 a.m. ET this morning, Delta has removed the reference to "ordinary seasonal virus" and replaced it with this sentence: "We are relieved to see the U.S. mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 transitions to a more manageable respiratory virus – with better treatments, vaccines and other scientific measures to prevent serious illness."

On Monday evening, the Biden administration said the mask mandate was no longer in effect after a judge voided it, though noted the CDC still recommends wearing masks on planes.