We’re in the middle of another COVID surge, but okay.
With summer travel season just around the corner, and yet another particularly contagious COVID-variant surge looming, a federal judge on Monday rolled back one of the Biden administration’s most obvious coronavirus mitigation efforts, claiming that the CDC had overstepped its authority by mandating passengers wear face masks on airplanes and other modes of public transportation.
In a 59-page ruling filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle described the CDC’s mandate — which was extended through May 3 — as part of its commendable effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, but criticized the agency for, in her view, acting beyond its legal mandate and failing to provide adequate legal justification for the rule.
“The CDC’s failure to explain its reasoning is particularly problematic here,” Mizelle, appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump in 2020, wrote. “At the time when the CDC issued the mandate, the COVID-19 pandemic had been ongoing for almost a year and COVID-19 case numbers were decreasing. This timing undercuts the CDC’s suggestion that its action was so urgent that a 30-day comment period was contrary to the public interest.”
In particular, Mizelle also found fault with the CDC’s claim that its mask mandate fell under the Public Health Services Act of 1944’s definition of “sanitizing.”
“The context of [that clause in the PHSA] indicates that ‘sanitation’ and ‘other measures’ refer to measures that clean something, not ones that keep something clean,” she wrote. “Wearing a mask cleans nothing.”
It remains to be seen when Mizelle’s ruling will go into effect. Neither the White House nor the Justice Department has responded to suggest if and when they will appeal the decision.
Meanwhile, with COVID cases on the rise in parts of the country, Philadelphia has become the largest city recently to reinstate its indoor mask mandate, prompting several lawsuits filed over the weekend seeking to halt that municipal order.