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Updated 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, May 3
The federal travel mask mandate — originally set to expire on April 18 — was ruled unlawful on April 18 by a federal judge in Florida. A few hours later, the Transportation Security Administration announced it would no longer enforce mask rules inside airports and airplanes and on public transportation.
The Justice Department has appealed this decision. In the meantime, this ruling means private and public transportation agencies can now drop their own mask mandates.
Most major airlines, along with the San Francisco, Oakland and San José international airports, now have made masks optional. Rideshare giants Uber and Lyft also have dropped their masking requirements for passengers and drivers. And private bus companies, like FlixBus and Megabus, have followed suit.
All Bay Area public transit agencies no longer require face masks — except BART
Several Bay Area transit agencies — including Caltrain and Muni — initially retained their mask rules after the TSA announcement.
But on April 20, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) announced that the state's mask requirements for public transit — and transportation hubs, like stations — also were terminated "effective immediately." The statement nonetheless still "strongly" recommended that California residents keep wearing their masks in these settings.
Every Bay Area public transit agency subsequently dropped their mask requirements for riders following the state's announcement. However, several BART officials communicated that they would push for new mask rules on the rapid transit system that would function independently of any state or local mandate. And on April 28, the BART Board of Directors announced that wearing a mask would once again be required by the agency's code of conduct, effective immediately. Read more about BART's new mask rules.
Could we see more agencies or regions reintroducing their own mask rules for public transit — regardless of the Justice Department's own appeal against the original decision by the Florida judge? Right now, it's unclear. On Tuesday, CDC officials declined to comment on the status of that appeal, and The Associated Press reports that DOJ officials did not immediately respond to a request for information.
On April 22, Los Angeles County independently introduced a new health order that once again requires masks on all public transit within the county. LA County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer cited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's continued guidance that masking on public transit remains a key way of preventing the spread of COVID.
It's worth mentioning that the Florida ruling does not mean the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have dropped their own recommendations around masking on public transit. On the contrary, on Tuesday the CDC restated their recommendation that Americans wear masks on planes, trains and buses.
"When people properly wear a well-fitting mask or respirator, they protect themselves and those around them, and help keep travel and public transportation safer for everyone," said the CDC's statement. "Wearing a well-fitting mask or respirator is most beneficial in crowded or poorly ventilated locations, such as airport jetways."
In the meantime, remember: Regardless of whether a transit agency has dropped its mask requirement, you can always choose to keep wearing your mask in whichever setting you please. NPR has tips on figuring out whether wearing a mask when others around you are not (aka "one-way masking") is the right call.
Are masks required on BART? Yes, starting April 28.
The rapid transit system, which serves five Bay Area counties, now requires riders to wear masks in all its facilities beyond the fare gates. This includes any waiting areas, platforms and trains.