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Confusion reigns as a judge strikes down the COVID-19 face mask mandate on public transportation

You could be forgiven this week for being confused.  On Monday, a federal judge in Florida struck down the U.S. facemask mandate for public transportation, but in doing so this didn’t impact the state and local mandates in place in many states and local transportation hubs and local businesses. As if there hasn’t been enough politically-motivated controversy during the COVID-19 pandemic, now there is more.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had extended that federal mandate until early May, to allow time for them to assess the data coming out of European countries where the new BA.2 subvariant has been gaining ground. Cases of COVID-19 have falling dramatically across the country in the wake of the January Omicron surge. Over the past two years, the U.S. has lagged about four weeks behind Europe in the spread of new COVID-19 cases and variants, so this was deemed prudent to assess before loosening any mandates.

But now a young, Trump-appointed judge has added to the political theater by calling the short extension unconstitutional. The Justice Department has indicated that it will fight that ruling if the CDC decides that it wants to fight it.

At this point, some airlines announced mid-flight that masks would no longer be required. Major airlines and airports in places like Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City quickly switched to a mask-optional policy and by Wednesday morning all 10 major airlines made masks optional.  Closer to home, the Denver Post reported Wednesday that masks are no longer required at Denver International Airport (DEN) and RTD texted that masks are now optional on the Bustang Outrider bus route between DIA and Salida.

But passengers landing at some airports learned that those airports still did require them; New York City, Chicago, and Connecticut, however, continued to require masks for travelers in terminals.

Los Angeles County dropped its mandate for mass transit. The ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber announced Tuesday on their websites that masks will now be optional while riding or driving. Amtrak said it would drop its requirement, but some regional transportation districts haven’t.

It became murkier on Tuesday when President Joe Biden, asked about the ruling responded by saying “that’s up to them.”  But the White House continues to require face coverings for those traveling with him on Air Force One, citing CDC guidance.

Many parents and grandparents of young children under the age of five are angry, as there is as yet no approved vaccine for the littlest of U.S. residents and they remain at risk. At this point, a Moderna vaccine for children under five isn’t expected until June. Children five to 11-years-old also have a low vaccination rate.

“Using that line about exercising your freedom is very disturbing to me. COVID doesn’t care about your political stance, or religion or your rights,” said Housingworks Medical Director Dr. Lipi Roy. “I’m worried about the young children who can’t be vaccinated and the people at risk with compromised immune systems, and the impacts of Long COVID. We still don’t know enough about where this is going to put these populations at risk on public transportation.”

As the COVID-19 virus continues to mutate, no one knows what will happen next. While we might be absolutely positively done and tired of the pandemic, health experts say that the virus is likely not be done with us. Some public health experts say they expect some form of it may return by Thanksgiving, making for another worrisome winter. In fact, the new subvariant BA.2.12-1 is gaining ground in the U.S., accounting for one in five cases. It is even more contagious than past variants.

Chaffee County and local schools dropped mask mandates earlier this year, and local governments have returned to in-person meetings. But the COVID leadership roundtable has continued to meet periodically, to keep local watch on any pandemic developments. Face masks were still required on school buses (as public transportation) but the Florida ruling could put that requirement in question too.

To keep up on the latest public health announcements in Chaffee County, follow this link:, or follow CCPH on Facebook at COVID-19 Chaffee County.

Featured image: Kids at Lake County Schools did second-day outdoor adventure activities and tutoring as part of the district’s adjustment to in-person learning during COVID-19. Courtesy image.