Marty Chavez arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport early Tuesday for his flight to Ohio and immediately began looking for his mask.
He approached a nearby United Airlines employee and inquired if he had a spare.
The worker said, “Sir, the mandate has been lifted.” “You’re not required to wear a mask.”
Similar scenes were playing out at airports and other locations across the country one day after a federal court judge struck down a rule requiring people to wear masks on planes, at airports, on subways, and in other public transportation settings, as Americans adjusted to the end of a mandate that had persisted when many others were allowed to expire. Airlines and travel organizations applauded U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle’s decision in the Middle District of Florida on Tuesday.
Several airlines, including United, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines, quickly announced that they would no longer enforce the mandate, despite the fact that their CEOs had lobbied for its repeal in recent weeks. Travelers on Amtrak, Uber, and Lyft were also told that masks were not required.
Customers and Metro employees in the Washington region were given the option of wearing masks on Metro’s rail and bus systems late Monday.
The transportation mandate has been one of the most high-profile mask requirements in the country, persisting even after similar mandates in most school districts and other jurisdictions have expired. Conflicts over masks have been especially vehement on airplanes, with some flight attendants being physically assaulted and verbally abused for enforcing mask rules.
The Biden administration announced last week that the requirement would be extended until May 3. However, Mizelle’s decision on Monday, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Health Freedom Defense Fund and airline passengers, including Ana Daza, who said wearing a mask aggravated her anxiety, threw those plans into disarray.
Nonetheless, some passengers, such as Chavez, were unaware that masks were no longer required or were hesitant to remove their face coverings on Tuesday. Despite the fact that travelers were told they were no longer required to wear masks at O’Hare, announcements in terminals continued to state that masks were required. The majority of those who arrived at the airport early Tuesday wore masks.
The judge’s decision comes as coronavirus cases in the Northeast are once again on the rise, with the BA. 2 omicron subvariant, which is more contagious than its predecessor, emerging as the most common strain in the US. It’s unclear whether the rise is the start of a larger trend, according to health officials.
Severson was flying to Orlando for a convention associated with the mold and water remediation franchise he owns. It’s his third flight since the pandemic began, and despite his medical history, he says he’s unconcerned about possible health risks.
The CDC used a 1944 law, the Public Health Service Act, to impose the mandate, according to Mizelle, who was appointed by President Donald Trump and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. However, Mizelle argued that the government’s claim that the mask requirement was put in place for “sanitation” falls short.
On three key issues, Mizelle ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, ruling that the CDC had exceeded its legal authority, improperly avoided notice and comment procedures, and that its mandate was “arbitrary and capricious.” Mizelle argued in her decision that the mask mandate infringed on passengers’ freedom of movement.
As part of the effort to contain the spread of the virus, airlines began requiring customers to wear masks in mid-2020. The Trump administration refused to enact a mask mandate, but shortly after taking office, Biden issued an order mandating mask use in all modes of transportation.
While studies show that wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the requirement has sparked debate on planes and in airports. Airlines executives cited this as another reason for ending the mandate in a letter to Biden last month.