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DOJ appeals mask ruling after CDC says it is 'necessary' for public health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement on Wednesday that 'an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health'

The Department of Justice filed a notice of appeal on Wednesday seeking to reverse a Florida judge’s decision to vacate the federal mask mandate for planes, trains, buses and travel hubs.

The DOJ filed the notice in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida just moments after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked the department to appeal U.S. District Judge Kathryn Mizelle’s decision to toss the directive on Monday.

“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 agency said in a statement on Wednesday.

Just days before the judge’s decision, the CDC began reviewing the rule and extended the mask mandate until May 3, so that it would remain in effect while officials assess current public health conditions.

“To protect CDC’s public health authority beyond the ongoing assessment announced last week, CDC has asked DOJ to proceed with an appeal,” the agency said in the statement.

While the case plays out, the agency said it “will continue to monitor public health conditions to determine whether such an order remains necessary.”

As of April 13, the U.S. was seeing around 31,000 COVID-19 cases per week, a 19.1% increase from the week prior, according to the CDC. The agency has estimated that more than 85% of new U.S. cases are BA.2, a subvariant of the Omicron mutation of the novel coronavirus.

The CDC also said Wednesday that it believes the mask mandate, which was initially enacted on Feb. 1, 2021 as a Covid-19 pandemic mitigation measure, is a “lawful order” that is “well within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.”

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“CDC’s number one priority is protecting the public health of our nation,” the agency said. “As we have said before, wearing masks is most beneficial in crowded or poorly ventilated locations, such as the transportation corridor.” 

Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley echoed those sentiments in a statement the previous day.

“The department continues to believe that the order requiring masking in the transportation corridor is a valid exercise of the authority Congress has given CDC to protect the public health,” Coley said on Tuesday. “That is an important authority the department will continue to work to preserve.”

But the federal judge who overturned the mandate on Monday ruled that that CDC overstepped its authority when it issued the directive because it is not directly related to sanitation, as required by the Public Health Services Act.

According to the district court’s statutory interpretation, the CDC’s sanitation measures refer to the act of cleaning something, as opposed to keeping something clean.

“Wearing a mask cleans nothing. At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance,” Mizelle wrote.

The Trump appointee also wrote that the mask mandate violates the procedures for agency rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act.

Officials across the U.S. have relaxed pandemic mitigation measures in recent months as infections have waned.

Because the Justice Department has not asked the appeals court to block the judge’s ruling, public transportation providers must decide on their own whether to enforce a mask requirement or not, for now.

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Because the Justice Department has not asked the appeals court to block the judge’s ruling, public transportation providers must decide on their own whether to enforce a mask requirement or not, for now.