A mask mandate on public transportation and airplanes will not be enforced at present, an official in President Joe Biden’s administration said on Monday after a federal judge in Florida ruled that the order was unlawful.
“TSA (Transportation Security Administration) will not enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs at this time,” the official said.
Last week, health officials extended by 15 days the mandate requiring travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains, and in taxis, ride-share vehicles or transit hubs, saying they needed time to assess the impact of a recent rise in COVID-19 cases.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, an appointee of President Donald Trump, came in a lawsuit filed last year in Tampa, Florida, by a group called the Health Freedom Defense Fund.
It comes as COVID-19 infections are again rising in the United States, with 36,251 new infections reported on average each day.
Judge Mizelle said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had exceeded its authority with the mandate, had not sought public comment and did not adequately explain its decisions.
The White House called the ruling “disappointing,” and said it is reviewing information related to the order.
“We’re continuing to recommend people wear masks,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters.
The CDC first issued a public health order requiring masks in interstate transportation in February 2021. The TSA issued a security directive to enforce the CDC order.
Industry groups and Republican lawmakers had wanted the administration to end the 14-month-old mask mandate last week.
The ruling could create confusion on airplanes, where the mask mandate has caused a surge in incidents and altercations between airline officials enforcing the mandate and unruly passengers rejecting the demand they cover their faces.
Since January 2021, there have been a record 7,060 unruly passenger incidents reported, 70% involving masking rules, according to the FAA.
After the ruling, Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, urged “calm and consistency in the airports and on planes. The last thing we need for workers on the frontlines or passengers traveling today is confusion and chaos.”
Airlines for America, which represents major U.S. passenger airlines, had last week urged the Biden administration “to lean into science and research,” saying that supports the lifting of the mask mandate. “It makes no sense to require masks on a plane when masks are not recommended in places like restaurants, bars or crowded sports facilities,” it said.
The group did not have an immediate comment on Monday’s ruling.
The U.S. Senate voted 57-40 last month to overturn the public health order requiring masks on airplanes and other forms of public transportation, drawing a veto threat from President Joe Biden.
Elizabeth Ireland contributed to this article.