First there was “Florida Man,” now there’s Florida Judge.
Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a US District Judge in Tampa ruled on Monday that the Centers for Disease Control’s current national requirement that masks be worn on airplanes and public transit is unlawful, and directed the CDC to reverse its policy.
The mask requirement on planes, trains, and public buses has been in effect since February 1, 2021 and was set to expire on April 18, 2022 – the same day Mizelle issued her ruling. However last week, the CDC extended the mask order through May 3 in response to the current rise in covid-19 cases.
The lawsuit was first filed in July 2021 and was brought against the Biden administration by two individuals and the Health Freedom Defense Fund. The “fund” is a non-profit that’s been around since August 2020 and has filed more than 10 suits against vaccine and mask mandates around the country.
Mizelle, who was appointed by Former President Donald Trump, hinged her ruling, in part, on a semantic argument, Bloomberg Law reports. Mizell’s ruling claims that the CDC categorized masks as “sanitation” in order to pass the transportation order via the Public Health Services Act of 1944, but that masks do not fall under “sanitation.” “Wearing a mask cleans nothing,” the judge wrote in the ruling. “At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance. “
The ruling also includes testimony by two individuals, Ana Carolina Daza and Sarah Pope, who claim wearing masks on planes worsened their anxiety and caused panic attacks.
Although technically, the federal ruling shuts down the transit mask mandate for the time being, The New York Times reports that the Justice Department could appeal, allowing the CDC to continue to enforce the order. The CDC has not released a comment about the ruling as of writing this, and CNBC reports that the CDC said it would not comment on pending litigation.
Public transit and planes are currently the last places where masking has still been enforced across the US, and the transportation mandate is one of a dwindling number of mask orders. Hawaii, the last state to have a mask requirement for public places, lifted that order on March 26, 2022. And smaller-scale mask mandates have largely disappeared from school districts and cities around the country.
Though Philadelphia, at least, recently brought a citywide mask mandate back only two months after lifting it. It’s unclear whether other major cities will do the same as Covid-19 cases tick back up after a brief lull following the first, massive Omicron wave.
Health experts predicted The current rise in new coronavirus cases based on wastewater data weeks ago, and the forecasted trend has become reality. Reported case numbers have risen 39% over the past two weeks, according to The New York Times dashboard. Hospitalizations have also begun to rise in New England, New York, the Mid-Atlantic and elsewhere, as BA.2 and others spread ultra-contagious variants.