US justice department to appeal against travel mask mandate ruling

National health agency says mask rule 'remains necessary for public health'

Travellers in a waiting area at an airport in Providence, Rhode Island, on April 19.  AP
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The US Justice Department said on Wednesday that it will appeal against a court ruling that lifted a pandemic travel mask mandate this week, after the national health agency said it was still necessary.

A federal judge in Florida ruled this week that the mask requirement for public transport was unlawful, which ended a 14-month rule to curb coronavirus cases.

Many major US airlines and public transport networks across the country removed their mask rules to much confusion, frustration and excitement from Americans.

"It is CDC’s continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health," the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The Justice Department said on Tuesday that its appeal relied on whether the national health agency found the mask mandate still necessary for bus, train, taxi and plane travel.

"In light of today's assessment … that an order requiring masking in the transportation corridor remains necessary to protect the public health, the department has filed a notice of appeal," Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley tweeted.

The CDC recently extended the mandate by two weeks to allow time to watch for a surge with the highly contagious Omicron BA.2 subvariant, which now accounts for most cases in the country.

"CDC will continue to monitor public health conditions to determine whether such an order remains necessary," the agency said. "CDC believes this is a lawful order, well within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health."

The New York Times coronavirus tracker said there was a 45 per cent 14-day rise in cases nationally. The health agency still hasn't signalled whether it will extend the mandate past May 3.

The Justice Department on Tuesday also it would not request a stay on the Florida ruling, meaning that the mask mandate could remain lifted while the appeal process is under way.

The mandate has support among Americans, recent polls show. An Associated Press survey last week found that 56 per cent said they would support masks on public transport.

Updated: April 27, 2022, 1:42 PM
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