Florida district judge lifts mask mandate nationwide, amid concerns from vulnerable populations
Last Monday, US District Judge Kathyrn Kimball Mizelle effectively ended the travel mask mandate, nationwide. Although Judge Mizelle is based in California, her status as a federal judge lets her issue rulings that override national government policies. She exerted this authority to overrule the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask requirement for airports, taxis, trains and other transportation hubs. This was originally expected to end on Monday, but the CDC wanted to extend it to observe the prevalent BA.2 omicron variant.
The CDC is adamant that masks will still be required and has criticized Judge Mizelle’s reasoning as “poorly reasoned and wrong (…) in need of more experienced juridical review.” In response, the DOJ has sent a notice of appeal to Florida court, regarding the travel mask mandate ruling. For the time being, the initial injunction remains in place.
Response to the order has been mixed. While experience has expressed relief at the news, there are still major concerns. The biggest one is the risk this order places on immunocompromised Americans. About 3% of Americans fall into the strict definition of immunocompromised, which is having weakened immune systems. This makes them susceptible to severe COVID-19 illnesses even after vaccination.
A March 2021 study also reveals that only 56% of these people gain sufficient COVID protection after their second dose of either Pfizer and Moderna. Additionally, chronically ill and disabled individuals may not be “immunocompromised” in the strictest definition but they will still be affected more severely by COVID-19 than other populations. The concern is that removing travel mask mandates will put these populations at risk. With no community measures, their only protection in high risk areas is individual masking.
Luckily, these individuals are not without any protections going outside. According to Dr. Scott Gotlieb, the 23rd commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration, said strong masks like KN95 or N95 variants offer quality protection even when other people are not masking. “If you have a good-fitting mask, a high-quality mask on and you’re wearing it well, you’re going to afford yourself a high degree of protection,” Gottlieb explained.
Though this should provide some solace, the fact remains that the ruling has been met with mixed results. At the time of writing, the mask mandate has been lifted but the DoJ’s appeal is ongoing. The CDC still recommends masking in public transportation settings even if it is no longer mandatory.