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Masking Mayhem: Federal judge strikes down mask mandate for airlines and public transportation

Crowds of masked and unmasked people broke through the security line at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, where the airport issued a statement Tuesday morning saying masks are now “optional for employees, passengers and visitors” at the airport. “Although a mask mandate is no longer enforced, employees, passengers and visitors are reminded that masks continue to provide a level of protection against the COVID virus,” the airport said. (John Spink/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Passengers across the United States expressed a mixture of joy and alarm after a federal judge in Florida abruptly canceled federal Covid-19 mask mandate for public transport and airlines. The April 18 ruling says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to justify its decision and engaged in improper process when imposing the warrant.

Under the Public Health Services Act 1944the CDC is authorized to impose measures related to “inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, extermination of pests [and] destruction of animals” to prevent the spread of disease. According to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, the CDC’s mask mandate does not fall sufficiently into such a category and, therefore, the enforcement of the mandate was deemed unconstitutional.

However, several jurists have since criticized Mizelle’s reasoning, arguing that she relied on overly narrow interpretations of the law to justify her decision.

“What she doesn’t take into consideration is that the law also says ‘and other measures, in her judgment, may be necessary,'” said Richard Weinmeyer, a doctoral student at Northwestern University. masks really fall into those other metrics, and she doesn’t take that into account at all.”

Mizelle also ruled that the CDC failed to provide sufficient justification for the creation and enforcement of the mask mandate, arguing that the mandate was “arbitrary and capricious” as a result. Again, a number of legal experts have criticized this reasoning.

“As there was already so much information by the time this was enacted, one would expect the government probably wouldn’t put as much verbiage into the statement as they do imposing the mandate,” Mark said. Weber, DePaul law professor. .

The Ministry of Justice said wednesday he would appeal Mizelle’s decision after a statement from the CDC arguing that the federal mandate “remains necessary for public health”. The United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit will hear the case, and the case could also end up in the Supreme Court – both of which are rather conservative.

Whether the courts side with Mizelle or the Justice Department won’t just impact the CDC’s Covid-19 mask mandate, though — the ruling could permanently diminish the CDC’s power to act against the spread of the disease.

“The statute specifies certain things the CDC can do with respect to communicable disease control, and [the argument is] it goes way beyond what he should be able to do,” Weinmeyer said. “And so the real concern going forward is that if the 11th Circuit were on the side of Judge Mizelle’s reasoning, that’s a real strike against the CDC – limiting its authority, limiting its power to act in these types emergencies. And that poses a real challenge, not just for this pandemic, but for future pandemics to come. »

Across the country, the sudden shift in policy has puzzled a number of Americans — many of whom had already struggled to keep up with local, state and federal policy shifts throughout the pandemic.

“It’s very confusing for people – I’m confused myself,” said Josh Hoffpauir, 21, a student at Drexel University in Philadelphia. “A lot of workers in grocery stores, restaurants or pharmacies don’t wear a mask. Many customers aren’t either. So it’s tough when you see all these different examples of how to live in the age of the pandemic, especially in Philadelphia.

April 18, Philadelphia became the first major American city to reinstate its mask mandate for public indoor spaces, following a rise in Covid-19 cases in the city. However, since Mizelle’s decision on the CDC’s mandate for transit didn’t come until hours later, many Philadelphians were confused about where they could and could not go without a mask.

Thursday — just four days after the indoor mask mandate went into effect — the Philadelphia Board of Health voted once again to cancel the mandate. Mayor Jim Kenney acknowledged on Friday that the decision by SEPTA — the city’s transit authority — to make masks optional in accordance with Mizelle’s decision made it difficult to enforce the city’s mandate.

In Chicago, the CTA and Metra announced on Tuesday that runners would no longer be required to wear masks. Later that day, the Chicago Department of Aviation announced the end of masking requirements at O’Hare and Midway airports.

While most cities have dropped masking requirements, not all transportation authorities have followed suit. In New York, masks remain mandatory on MTA transitAs good as inside John F Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport before and after boarding a flight. Also in Los Angeles County, runners must wear masks on public transport and when inside Los Angeles International Airport and Hollywood-Burbank Airport.

Even in places where masks are legally required, a policy is only as effective as its ability to be enforced.

“We rely on the public to comply with these types of issues,” Weinmeyer said. “A big concern, even at the start of the pandemic, was how are small businesses – even large companies – really going to enforce these types of policies? Because this responsibility has been entrusted to them. And we see it in actions taken against flight attendants or people fighting in stores for wearing masks and things like that.

Still, Weinmeyer adds that the number of people he’s seen wearing masks even after the mandates were dropped is encouraging.

“There will be people who won’t wear masks,” he said. “You can’t do much. Public health isn’t about 100% compliance, it’s about trying to get as many people involved – getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, practicing social distancing – to reduce the spread of the disease. Nothing will be 100% perfect, but we’re really trying to do the best we can, and I’m heartened to go to the story and still see a lot of people wearing masks. Every little bit helps in such situations.