A federal judge in Florida Monday struck down the federal travel mask mandate designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
US District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled that public health officials overstepped their authority by ordering travelers to wear protective face masks even during a pandemic that has killed nearly 1 million Americans.
In her 59-page ruling, Mizelle said she had no choice but to strike down the rule even though she conceded it may have been implemented as a good-faith public health measure.
“Because our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends, the court declares unlawful and vacates the mask mandate,” wrote the Tampa judge, who was appointed by former President Trump.
Mizelle, who was rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association when Trump nominated her, asserted that the CDC incorrectly used its power to enforce “sanitation” to impose the mask mandate. She also said booting people from airports or train stations for not wearing masks is akin to detaining them.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the mandate would be scrapped immediately or if the government would appeal.
The Centers for Disease Control imposed the mask mandate at the height of the pandemic and has repeatedly extended it as the US has battled repeated surges caused by variants of the original deadly virus.
The mandate was set to expire Monday amid mostly declining numbers as the omicron wave ebbs.
But the CDC extended until May 3 to allow more time to study the BA.2 sub-variant of omicron that is driving caseloads higher in New York and the rest of the Northeast.
Public health officials say masks are an essential tool for limiting the spread of COVID and a simple step to avoid passing the disease on to others, especially for those who have refused to be vaccinated.
They say it is better to keep the mandate and other restrictions in place to avoid having to reimplement them in the event of a new surge.
But right-wingers and anti-vaxxers despise the mask mandate, and claim it is an infringement on their personal freedom. They assert it does little to stop the spread of the virus.
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Airlines have also joined the fight to end the mandateclaiming that effective air filters on modern planes make transmission of the virus during a flight highly unlikely.