Passengers riding public transit no longer need to wear masks. Although the federal public transit mask mandate was to end on May 3 so the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) could study the coronavirus BA.2 variant, a federal judge in Florida struck the order down on April 18, saying the CDC exceeded its authority and failed to follow procedures for rulemaking.
This comes at a time when the COVID-19 spread is increasing; the positivity rate as of April 22 was 6%, just above the state’s 5% threshold for uncontrolled spread.
Nonetheless, all Twin Cities transit agencies began to stop requiring masks onboard following metro counties and the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, which mostly ended their mandates between February and March of this year.
Nevertheless, many passengers on certain Metro Transit routes continued to wear masks as if the ruling did not take place. On a Friday afternoon ride on two Route 18 buses, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) noticed most passengers, save for a small percentage, still wearing masks.
Alan Freeman of South Minneapolis was one of those Route 18 riders who decided to continue wearing a mask out of respect for the vulnerable, he said, who may be more likely to die from the coronavirus. “I still respect them. I know if I get it, I might survive, but if they got it, they might not,” said Freeman, who is indifferent about the need for a mask mandate.
Taneisha Holm, on the other hand, thinks the mask mandate should stay. “Because we’re so close [to each other], you never know who’s next to you. It could be an elderly person [or someone] like myself with health problems, which makes me nervous,” said Holm. She added that she was hospitalized for COVID-19 for a month.
The CDC continues to recommend mask-wearing for people vulnerable to COVID-19. The Department of Justice, at the request of the CDC, plans to appeal the ruling. The ruling, if it stands, may make it difficult for the CDC to respond to future public health emergencies.
Not all agencies across the nation are getting rid of their mask mandates, despite the lack of federal backing. New York City transit continues to require riders to don masks, and Los Angeles County reinstated such an order on its transit vehicles and airports. San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit district will consider a mandate to be enforced through their code of conduct on April 28.
Henry Pan is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.