US Will No Longer Enforce Masks for Travel While Mask-less European Airlines See Jump in Staff COVID Cases
Airline easyJet had to cancel hundreds of flights as a result of a rise in COVID-19 cases in staff. It abandoned mask-wearing last month.

The Biden administration will no longer enforce its mask mandate for travel after a federal judge in Florida struck down the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mandate for planes, buses and trains Monday afternoon. 

US District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled in favor of the Health Freedom Defense Fund which had initiated a lawsuit against the federal government in July 2021, stating that the mandate has “exceeded the CDC statutory authority.”  

“It is indisputable that the public has a strong interest in combating the spread of COVID,” Mizelle wrote

However, Mizelle also controversially claimed in her ruling that “wearing a mask cleans nothing” and that “at most, it traps virus droplets. But it neither ‘sanitizes’ the person wearing the mask nor ‘sanitizes’ the conveyance.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends wearing a mask “as part of a comprehensive strategy of measures to suppress transmission and save lives”.

She ruled that the mask mandate exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority, declaring it unlawful as the CDC failed to explain its reasoning for the mandate.

“Because our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in the pursuit of desirable ends, the court declares unlawful and vacates the mask mandate,” Mizelle ruled.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki had called the ruling “disappointing” at a White House briefing, citing the recommendation by the CDC to continue wearing masks in public transit.

“What we announced last week was just a two-week extension in order to have time to assess what we’ve all seen is rising cases, and make an assessment and recommendation with that in mind.” 

The federal ruling was initially set to expire on 3 May to allow more time to study the COVID-19 BA.2 Omicron subvariant now responsible for the vast majority of US cases. 

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which would be implementing this ruling, and CDC are currently reviewing the decision. 

US airlines make masks optional

Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Georgia, US. Airlines across the country have opted to make masks optional following Florida ruling.

This ruling has quickly reshaped US air travel, as numerous carriers – Delta, United, Southwest, American, and others – have now said that masks are optional for travelers aboard aircraft. 

The massive shift means that airline employees also no longer have to wear masks and won’t have to enforce the rule on passengers. However, airlines also warn that travelers should still bring masks on trips to conform with the rules for where they land, especially for international flights. 

“To mask or not to mask, the choice is yours,” said Frontier Airlines on Twitter

While masks may be optional onboard, airlines such as Delta have warned that masks may be “inconsistently enforced” as the news is being “broadly communicated” over the next 24 hours.  

“Communications to customers and in-airport signage and announcements will be updated to share that masking is now optional – this may take a short period of time.” 

Delta had expressed optimism about the ruling, adding, “We are relieved to see the US mask mandate lift to facilitate global travel as COVID-19 has transitioned to an ordinary seasonal virus.” 

Other airlines have noted that they will be ready to respond to future COVID surges, should the need arise.  

“We are confident we will be ready to respond if faced with another COVID wave or even a new virus,” said Alaska Airlines.  

International airlines face canceled flights amid rising cases  

While airlines and passengers across the US are celebrating the end of mask mandates on flights, international flights have seen COVID-19 cases rise and flights cancelled following the removal of masks a month earlier.

More than 200 flights were cancelled by budget-friendly Swiss airline easyJet over the weekend, and more than 60 flights on Monday, with the airline blaming the cancellations on staff shortages caused by COVID-19. 

An easyJet spokesperson said: “As a result of the current high rates of COVID infectious across Europe, like all businesses, easyJet is experiencing higher than usual levels of employee sickness.” 

“We have taken action to mitigate this through the rostering of additional standby crew this weekend, however, with the current levels of sickness, we have also decided to make some cancellations in advance which were focused on consolidating flights where we have multiple frequencies so customers have more options to rebook their travel, often on the same day.

EasyJet made the move to not require masks on flights earlier in March, following the United Kingdom’s removal of all travel restrictions earlier in March

British Airways has also cancelled a small number of flights due to staff sicknesses during the Easter holiday weekend. 

Image Credits: Ben Queenborough/PinPep )F;oclr_, risingthermals/flickr.

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