(CN) — The Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it will appeal a Florida judge’s decision to toss the federal mask mandate for public transit only if an ongoing review by the Centers for Disease Control finds the rule is necessary to protect public health.
Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement that both the DOJ and the CDC disagree with U.S. District Judge Kathryn Mizelle’s ruling that the federal face mask requirement for airports, planes, trains and buses exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority.
“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,” he said. “That is an important authority the department will continue to work to preserve.”
Coley noted that, just days before the judge’s decision, the CDC began reviewing the rule and extended the mask mandate until May 3, so that it would remain in effect while officials assess current public health conditions.
“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,” he said.
The news comes the day after Mizelle ruled that the CDC overstepped its statutory authority when it enacted the directive in February 2021 because it isn’t directly related to sanitation, as required by the Public Health Services Act.
According to the district court’s statutory interpretation, the CDC’s sanitation measures refer to the act of cleaning something, as opposed to keeping something clean.
“Wearing a mask cleans nothing. At most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance,” Mizelle wrote.
The Trump appointee also wrote that the mask mandate violates the procedures for agency rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act.
Pandemic mitigation measures have largely been relaxed in recent months across the U.S. as infections have waned. Monday’s ruling means, for now, airlines and other public transportation providers must may make their own decisions as to whether to enforce a mask requirement or not.
Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said on Twitter that Mizelle's ruling was "deeply disappointing."
"CDC scientists had asked for 15 days to make a more data-driven durable decision. We should have given it to them," he said. "But I'll continue to follow CDC guidance & mask up on planes."
As of Tuesday, the U.S. was seeing around 31,000 Covid-19 cases per week, a 19.1% increase from the week prior, according to the CDC. The agency has estimated that more than 85% of new U.S. cases are BA.2, a subvariant of the omicron mutation of the novel coronavirus.
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