Days after the travel mask mandate in the U.S. was struck down by a Florida judge on 18APR, U.S. President Joe Biden's administration is considering appealing the ruling, according to new reports.
When the ruling first came down on 18APR, airlines and many airports didn't hesitate to drop the requirement of travellers, and early reports indicated the White House would not challenge the ruling.
Asked by reports on 19APR whether Americans should be wearing masks, President Biden replied it now “was up to them.”
Behind the scenes, however, wheels were turning.
Subsequently, the Justice Department said that it would appeal the ruling if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determines the mandate is still necessary to protect public health. The department said it would defer to the CDC’s assessment before filing any appeal, reports the Washington Post.
“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. That is an important authority the Department will continue to work to preserve,” Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement. “If CDC concludes that a mandatory order remains necessary for the public’s health after that assessment, the Department of Justice will appeal the district court’s decision.”
In a statement on 19APR, the CDC said it will assess the need for a mask requirement in transportation settings based on factors such as the risk of virus variants and trends in case counts.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki added the administration believes the mask mandate should have remained in place despite it being shot down close to its expiration on 03MAY, reports NBC News.
"The CDC said it needed 15 days to assess the impact of an uptick in cases on hospitalizations, deaths and hospital capacity, we still feel that is entirely reasonable based on the latest science," Psaki. "Public health decisions shouldn’t be made by the courts. They should be made by public health experts."
Shortly after the ruling, Psaki said that the decision was “disappointing" and that people should continue to wear masks on mass transit.
If the Biden administration choses not to appeal the ruling, it risks setting a dangerous precedent for how public health decisions are made in the future, public health experts commented.
“If the CDC loses its power to prevent the spread of infectious diseases between states or coming into the country, we are all at great risk,” said Richard Besser, former acting director of the CDC. “So I hope this ruling is challenged because in the next pandemic, the next big public health crisis, we want the CDC to be able to put in scientifically based, rational restrictions that protect people’s health.”
Is the Can of Worms Already Open?
However, should the ruling be challenged and the decision reversed, it remains to be seen how airlines will revert to requiring masks on flights, considering that masks have been held responsible for the sharp uptick in instances of 'air rage' since the pandemic began. It's hard to imagine what kind of conflict might ensue if they try to put the genie of mask-free travel back in the bottle now it's out.