Where are masks still required now that the mask mandate has been lifted?
- While the federal mask mandate is now void, some local authorities are keeping mask requirements in place on public transit.
- Masks are still required at several airports and in some cities, on buses, Uber and Lyft.
- 3. Even where masks aren't required, they may still be encouraged.
Travel is looking completely different than it did at the start of this week – or any day in the past two years – as masks are now optional on just about every major mode of transportation.
From airlines to rideshare companies, transportation providers have quickly pivoted after a federal judge in Florida voided the federal mask mandate Monday. U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle said the mandate exceeded the authority of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which failed to justify the order and didn't follow proper rulemaking procedures.
The Biden administration appealed the decision Wednesday at the request of the CDC, which said the mandate "remains necessary for the public health. The federal government is not enforcing the mandate during the Department of Justice's appeal.
While the mandate is no longer in effect, "CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time," the public health agency said in statements posted on its website.
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Why the CDC appeal matters
Monday's decision put into question the CDC's authority and reopened nationwide debate over court orders, but the health agency saysthe mask mandate is "lawful" and "well within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health."
The appeal does not change the removal of the mask mandate's lifting earlier this week. The Justice Department said it would not ask for a temporary stay, which would have overturned the federal judge's ruling and reinstated the masking requirements.
The mask mandate was set to expire May 3, after being extended by 15 days last week. White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the administration's extension , arguing it was made to assess an increase in COVID-19 cases.
"We still feel that is entirely reasonable based on the latest science, and public health decisions shouldn't be made by the courts," Psaki said. "They should be made by public health experts."
When asked by a reporter in New Hampshire on Tuesday whether people should continue to wear masks on planes, President Joe Biden said, "That's up to them."
Are masks required on planes?
Every major U.S. airline has now made face masks optional for passengers and employees. That includes Delta, United, American and Southwest as well as Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant, and newer airlines like Breeze and Avelo.
Some airlines reminded travelers to respect the decisions of people who choose to continue wearing masks.
"We look forward to seeing your smiles on board & encourage kindness & respect for those who continue to mask," Sun Country Airlines tweeted.
Several airlines noted that some destinations, particularly abroad, may still require wearing masks.
Like airlines, many airports across the country are leaning on TSA guidance and lifting mask requirements. Airports like Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International and Dallas Fort Worth International have made masks optional. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey tweeted that face coverings are now optional at Newark Liberty International and Teterboro airports but still required at New York facilities, including John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports.
Are masks required on trains?
Amtrak is still encouraging, but not requiring, face masks on its trains.
"While Amtrak passengers and employees are no longer required to wear masks while on board trains or in stations, masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19," Amtrak said in a statement. "Anyone needing or choosing to wear one is encouraged to do so."
Brightline, which provides rail service in Florida, has made face masks optional but suggested them for people who are considered "high-risk," including people who are not fully vaccinated.
Regional commuter train and subway policies may vary across the country.
Are masks required on buses?
Coach USA, Megabus and Greyhound are no longer requiring face masks for passengers or employees.
"The CDC still recommends wearing a mask while on public transit and we encourage customers to make the choice that makes sense for them," Coach USA and Megabus Vice President Colin Emberson said in a statement. "Please be mindful that masks may still be required while traveling through the bus stations we serve."
Greyhound still required face masks as of Monday evening, but in a statement via communications specialist Crystal Booker on Tuesday, the company said: "In accordance with the Transportation Security Administration no longer enforcing the federal face mask mandate, face masks on all our buses and facilities is optional with the following exceptions: Face masks are required on cross border trips into Canada and Mexico until Canada and Mexico remove their requirements. Face masks will still be required if mandated by local municipalities."
Do I need to wear a mask on Uber or Lyft?
Mask are now optional for riders and drivers on Uber and Lyft in most places across the country.
"Remember: many people still feel safer wearing a mask because of personal or family health situations, so please be respectful of their preferences," Uber posted on its website. "And if you ever feel uncomfortable, you can always cancel the trip."
Uber also noted that the CDC still recommends wearing face masks.
"Anyone who wants to continue wearing a mask is encouraged to do so," Lyft said in a statement. "As always, drivers or riders can decline to accept or cancel any ride they don’t wish to take."
But that rule doesn't apply uniformly across the nation. In New York City and Los Angeles County, masks are still required in taxis and other for-hire vehicles, like Uber and Lyft.
But that discrepancy is already proving confusing.
Zac Fleming, an editor at Bloomberg, detailed his own experience in an Uber Tuesday.
"Uber driver just now said he contacted hq to clarify this nyc mask palaver and was told Uber isn’t requiring him to mask up and it’s up to him if he wants to follow the city’s rules," Fleming wrote, calling the situation "messy."
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, even though LADOT tweeted Tuesday that it would riders would no longer need to mask up, the Los Angeles County Public Health Department issued a Health Office Order on Thursday saying masks would still be required on public transit and in indoor transportation hubs.
What do travelers think?
Eighty-year-old Robert Reidy of Santa Fe, New Mexico, called the judge's mask ruling "ridiculous."
"I think that we need to comply with the perception of what’s good for everyone," Reidy said Monday night at Oakland International Airport in California.
"It still feels a little risky at this point. Cases go up and they go down," added David Peterkofsky of Oakland. "We're not out of the woods yet."
The ruling couldn't come soon enough for Nicole Kelso of Dallas.
"We prefer not to wear masks, but if it's required, we'll put it on," Kelso said at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. "We're from Texas, and we haven't been wearing masks for about a year and a half."
Pat Cane of Walnut Creek, California, also said he'll follow whatever the rules are.
"I won’t wear a mask if not mandated,” he said. “We have to move on and get to the point where we treat (the coronavirus) like any other virus. We can’t continue to shut down the economy or jobs."
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A number of videos on social media showed elation among airline passengers Monday as they learned the mask mandate would not be enforced.
"While I've seen those videos, anecdotes are not data," Psaki said. "Certainly that does tell a part of the story. But we don't make these decisions based on politics or based on the political winds on a plane or even in a poll."
She said many Americans, according to polls, still want to have mask mandates in place.
Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson, Terry Collins, USA TODAY