Florida judge overturns CDC mask mandate for planes and public transit

Travelers make their way through the Miami International Airport before starting the Labor Day weekend on September 03, 2021 in Miami, Florida.

Joe Raedle | Getty Images

A federal judge in Florida on Monday vacated the Biden administration’s national mask mandate for planes and other forms of public transportation, ruling that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had overstepped its authority.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle said the CDC had failed to adequately explain its reasons for the mandate, and did not allow public comment in violation of federal procedures for issuing new rules. Mizelle was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2020.

The Health Freedom Defense Fund, a group that opposes public health mandates, and two individuals who argued that wearing masks while flying exacerbated their anxiety and panic attacks first filed the lawsuit against the Biden administration in July 2021.

The court’s ruling comes less than a week after the CDC extended the mask mandate for 15 daysamid a rise in Covid infections nationwide due to the more contagious omicron BA.2 subvariant. The U.S. reported a seven-day average of nearly 35,000 new infections as of Friday, a 36% increase over the past two weeks, according to data from the CDC.

While state and local authorities across the country have lifted mask mandates, the CDC decided last week to keep the federal requirements for public transportation in place through May 3. The agency said it needed time to assess whether the rise of infections will have an impact on hospital capacity.

Airlines have repeatedly asked the Biden administration to the drop mask mandate as well as other restrictions such as predeparture testing for international travelers.

The CDC recently eased its public health guidance for most of the country, saying the overwhelming majority of Americans live in areas where they no longer need to wear masks indoors — with the exception of public transportation.

The agency eased its mask guidance after changing the metrics that underpin its public health recommendations, placing a greater emphasis on hospitalizations rather than relying mostly on infections. Infections and hospitalizations have plummeted more than 90% since the peak of the winter omicron wave in January,

— CNBC’s Leslie Joseph contributed to this report.