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DOJ appeals ruling on public transportation mask mandates

By Calley Hair
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DOJ appeals ruling on public transportation mask mandates
A woman walks towards her departing flight without a face mask, at St. Louis -Lambert International Airport in St. Louis on Tuesday. The U.S. Department of Justice filed an appeal Wednesday to overturn a ruling voiding the Biden administration's mask mandate for travelers using public transportation. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

April 20 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday appealed a federal judge's ruling that struck down face mask mandates for passengers on public transportation, including buses and airplanes.

The department filed the appeal in a Florida district court following a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which states that masking on transportation "remains necessary for the public health."

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The CDC said in a statement Wednesday that it continues to recommend that people wear masks in "all indoor public transportation settings."

"CDC's number one priority is protecting the public health of our nation," the agency said. "As we have said before, wearing masks is most beneficial when in crowded or poorly ventilated locations, such as the transportation corridor."

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The Justice Department on Tuesday announced it would appeal the ruling rescinding the mandate pending an assessment from the CDC but did not request a stay, meaning travelers will not be required to wear masks on public transportation while the challenge is being considered.

"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," Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement on Tuesday. "That is an important authority the Department will continue to work to preserve."

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On Monday, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled in Tampa, Fla., that the mask mandate enacted more than a year ago is unconstitutional.

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Mizelle -- who was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2020 -- ruled that the administration doesn't have the power to enforce a mask mandate due to the wording of 1944's Public Health Service Act, which specifies that the government can establish rules in the interest of "sanitation."

"A power to improve 'sanitation' would easily extend to requiring vaccinations against COVID-19, the seasonal flu, or other diseases. Or to mandatory social distancing, coughing-into-elbows, and daily multivitamins," Mizelle wrote. A face mask, she continued, "cleans nothing. At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither 'sanitizes' the person wearing the mask nor 'sanitizes' the conveyance."

Following the ruling, the CDC updated the guidance on its website to indicate agency "continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time."

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After the last of the statewide indoor mask mandates lifted on March 12, new cases of COVID-19 have been ticking upward. Philadelphia reinstated its mask mandate on Monday; across the country, other U.S. cities are watching carefully to see if they should follow suit, the New York Times reports.

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