Federal judge voids mask mandate on planes, public transit

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St. Petersburg — A federal court in Florida has revoked the U.S. government’s national mask mandate that covers airplanes and public transport. This was deemed to be beyond the authority of U.S. officials.

The decision Monday by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) improperly failed to justify its decision and did not follow proper rulemaking according to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

” The court concluded that the mask mandate exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority, and violates the procedures for agency rulemaking under APA,” the judge wrote. “Accordingly, court vacates mandate and remands to CDC.”

The CDC recently extended the mask mandate, which was set to expire on April 18, 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 Trump-nominated judge also wrote that the court “accepts the CDC’s policy determination that requiring masks will limit COVID-19 transmission and will thus decrease the serious illnesses and death that COVID-19 occasions” but “that finding by itself is not sufficient to establish good cause.”

The mask requirement for travelers was the subject of months of lobbying by the airlines. They wanted to eliminate it. The carriers argued that modern aircraft have effective air filters, making transmission of the virus on a flight extremely unlikely. The mandate was also opposed by Republicans in Congress.

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.

The Justice Department is currently reviewing the decision. The CDC stated that it does not comment on pending litigation.

— CBS News’ Rob Legare and Kathryn Krupnik contributed to this report

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