September 30, 2022

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Travel Mask Mandate Struck Down: What It Means In Rhode Island

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RHODE ISLAND — The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority dropped a mandate requiring passengers to wear face coverings on buses and ferries Tuesday, a day after a federal judge struck down the federal mask requirement for public transportation.

Florida federal Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle said in the 59-page decision striking down the travel mask mandate that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its legal authority and failed to go through proper channels to put the rule in place.

The ruling means face coverings to protect against COVID-19 are no longer required on planes, trains and, in most cases, subways and buses.

“RIPTA encourages those who want to continue to wear a mask when on board to continue to do so,” said Scott Avedisian, RIPTA’s chief executive officer, in a statement Tuesday.

The CDC said late Monday said its order requiring masks on public transportation “is no longer in effect” and the agency will not enforce it. The CDC said it “continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time.”

Overnight, the scene at T.F. Green International Airport in Warwick and others across the country changed dramatically. Effective Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration was no longer requiring masks on planes or in the nation’s airports. One by one, most of the nation’s major airlines dropped mask requirements, making the face coverings optional for employees and passengers.

“While travelers are no longer required to wear a mask in travel hubs including airports, stations and on public transportation, it is still recommended,” officials with the Rhode Island Department of Health said on their website.

The TSA said in its statement that the CDC continues to recommend face coverings to protect against the coronavirus. Amtrak issued a stronger statement, saying that although they are no longer required of passengers and employees, “masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19.”

The Florida decision also affects ride-hailing companies. Uber no longer requires masks as of Tuesday and Lyft soon followed suit, saying masks are now optional for riders and drivers.

Still, some state and local transit agencies could keep their mask requirements. Last week, the CDC extended the now-suspended mask rule to study the worrisome BA.2. subvariant of the coronavirus, which is responsible for most of the COVID-19 cases around the country.

Philadelphia extended its mask mandate, the first city to do so in response, and on Monday, a group of local residents and businesses filed a lawsuit to throw out the mask mandate.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City said Monday it would keep its mask mandate in place on the bus, subway and rail systems it oversees, The New York Times reported.

The case before Mizelle, appointed to the federal bench by now-former President Donald Trump in November 2020 after he lost the presidential election, was filed in July 2021 by two plaintiffs and the Health Freedom Defense Fund.

“The court concludes that the mask mandate exceeds the CDC’s statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking under the APA,” the judge wrote.

It’s unclear if the Biden administration will appeal the decision. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that Mizelle’s decision was “disappointing,” and the administration’s response is still under review and the “Department of Justice would make any determination about litigation.”