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The Federal Mask Mandate Is Officially Lifted, So Can I Throw All My Masks in the Trash Now?

On Monday, April 18, a federal judge in Florida struck down the mask mandate for airplanes, trains and public transportation. The ruling caught many Americans by surprise because even though states around the country have long since lifted their own mandates, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently extended the federal mask mandate for transportation through May 3.

Now, the CDC website has a message that reads:

“As a result of a court order, effective immediately and as of April 18, 2022, CDC’s January 29, 2021 Order requiring masks on public transportation conveyances and at transportation hubs is no longer in effect. Therefore, CDC will not enforce the Order. CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time.”

In her 59-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle said that the CDC’s mask mandate goes too far. Immediately, the Trump-appointed judge was hailed as a hero by many conservatives and an incompetent villain by supporters of the mask mandate.

Her ruling reads:

“As travelers have been reminded for more than a year, federal law requires wearing a mask in airports, train stations, and other transportation hubs as well as on airplanes, buses, trains, and most other public conveyances in the United States. Failure to comply may result in civil and criminal penalties, including removal from the conveyance… The court concludes that the mask mandate exceeds the CDC’s statutory authority and violates the procedures required for agency rulemaking under the [Administrative Procedure Act]. Accordingly, the Court vacates the Mandate and remands it to the CDC.”

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So does this mean the mask mandate is over, full stop? Not quite.

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The ruling notes that airlines, as private businesses, may still require passengers to wear masks, and other businesses retain that right as well. However, some businesses are already lifting mask restrictions for travelers, many of whom are weary of masking up when traveling.

In a viral video, an Alaska Airlines pilot gleefully announced the news to his passengers mid-flight, and Lyft has already announced that passengers will no longer be required to wear masks, according to CNN. In addition, major airlines such as Delta, American Airlines, United Airlines, Jet Blue and Southwest have since said that masks will now be optional for passengers.

So does this mean you can throw all of your masks in the trash, or burn them all in a triumphant bonfire? It’s a free country, so you’re perfectly free to do so; however, we don’t recommend getting rid of all of your masks just yet.

As noted above, individual airlines and private businesses will likely require masks for a little while longer, although policies may change quickly in the weeks and months ahead. In addition, many people will likely continue to wear masks in crowded indoor environments permanently as a way to avoid spreading or contracting illnesses of any kind. Finally, immunocompromised Americans and disability rights advocates are still urging people to wear masks indoors, as certain groups still face an increased risk from COVID-19.

In addition, at least some blue state politicians are indicating that they may defy Judge Mizelle’s ruling. As of Tuesday, April 19, the New York City Metropolitan Transporation Authority said that it would keep the mask mandate in place while it reviewed the court ruling, according to WABC New York. Even so, the federal Transportation Security Administration and the CDC no longer have the authority to enforce the mandate, nor will they seek to do so, and it’s unclear under what authority the MTA can keep the New York City transportation mask mandate in place.

Here in New York City, the mask mandate is already very loosely enforced on subways, but Tuesday morning commuters were still more likely to wear a face mask than not.

If you are still interested in wearing face masks to protect yourself and others, you are free to do so, of course. You can check out our guide to the best places to buy N95 masks online. Recently, retailers like Amazon have begun selling KN95 face masks for as little as $0.35 each.

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