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Justice Department will appeal mask ruling if CDC says mandate is still needed

Fallout over end of travel mask mandate
Fallout over end of travel mask mandate 02:53

The Justice Department will appeal a district judge's decision to end the national mask mandate on public transit only if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the mandate is still necessary, the department said Tuesday in a statement. The DOJ added that it disagrees with the district court's decision.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa voided the CDC's requirement covering airplanes and other public transit, saying the mandate exceeded the authority of U.S. health officials. In the aftermath, the Transportation Security Administration said it would no longer enforce the mandate.

The judge's decision came after the CDC extended the mask mandate, which had been set to expire Monday, by two weeks to give researchers more time to study the Omicron subvariant BA.2.   

"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," the Justice Department said.

In a statement Tuesday night, the CDC said it "continues to recommend that people wear masks in all indoor public transportation settings." 

"We will continue to assess the need for a mask requirement in those settings, based on several factors, including the U.S. COVID-19 community levels, risk of circulating and novel variants, and trends in cases and disease severity," the statement added.

However, the response to the ruling has been varied. Some cities, including New York City and Philadelphia, still require masks to be worn in airports and on public transportation, while others, such as Houston and Atlanta, do not. Even airlines now have differing rules for masking, although most now say masks are optional for passengers. Amtrak has also said masks are no longer required on trains or in stations.

How the end of the travel mask mandate could affect your health 02:58

Asked Tuesday if people should still wear masks on planes, President Biden replied: "That's up to them," according to The Associated Press.

Dr. Céline Gounder, an infectious disease expert and editor-at-large for Kaiser Health News, told "CBS Mornings" that the CDC's extension was the "appropriate" and "cautious" approach.

"We know that this virus mutates. In fact, it's mutating very rapidly," she said. "We will see more variants, and we will see other pandemics after COVID. So I do think the idea of stripping ourselves of an essential tool and toolbox is a really bad idea."

Victoria Albert contributed reporting.

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