The People’s CDC condemns the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Florida’s decision on April 18 to void a CDC rule requiring continued masking on public transportation.
As COVID rates are increasing rapidly in parts of the US, the court overruled scientific judgment and the protective public health responsibility of the CDC. The ruling sets a dangerous precedent where a single judge in one state, ignoring evidence, undermined the CDC’s ability to protect us in an emergency. This was immediately harmful, especially to people at higher-risk—the elderly, people living with disabilities, people with chronic diseases, the immunocompromised, pregnant individuals, and young children who can’t get vaccinated yet —and to transit workers, who are exposed to large groups of travelers every day. The ruling is a flagrant violation of the rights of people living with disabilities, denying them reasonable accommodation when accessing essential services.
Public transportation requires close contact with others in a poorly ventilated, confined space over a prolonged period of time and is especially risky as many people with COVID infections have no symptoms. Masks are effective at preventing transmission, but they work best when everyone is wearing them. According to a 2016 Pew Research survey, the people who have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic including Black and Latinx Americans, and people with low income, are twice as likely to use public transport as other groups. While much of the media and public attention has focused on air travel, there are 34 million public transit trips every day, which is around 20 times the number who take plane trips. Rides are shorter, but ventilation is worse. These riders are less likely to have tested, more likely to be unvaccinated and at higher risk, and less likely to have a choice in being there.
The People’s CDC applauds local transit authorities who are maintaining their masking mandate, and encourages others to follow. The People’s CDC calls on the White House, the CDC and the DOJ to promote evidence-based mask mandates and urgently appeal the decision, and calls on governors, members of Congress, health professional societies, and other leaders to echo these demands to the White House. In the meantime we call on state and local governments, and private corporations to use their own authority to implement transit mask mandates.