Metro, Ride On, TSA drop mask requirement following judge’s order voiding mandate

The national mask mandate for mass transit and airplanes is officially over.

A Florida federal judge struck down the order Monday after saying that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to justify the mask order, and also did not follow proper rulemaking procedures when doing so.



The mask mandate was set to expire Monday, but the CDC had planned to extend it until May 3.

Many airlines and public transit agencies across the country reacted in real time to the news, including here in the D.C. area.

Ride On

Montgomery County’s Ride On buses will not require passengers, or drivers, to wear a mask, the county government said in a statement Tuesday.

The county made the move to provide “consistency within the region” after Metro and other systems have dropped their requirements, said County Department of Transportation Director Chris Conklin in the statement. He encouraged people to continue masking, however.

County Executive Marc Elrich wasn’t happy about the change.

“We think this is a bad decision by a Trump judge, who has no expertise in public health, to overrule our nation’s public health experts,” Elrich said. “Not only will this increase risk during the current surge, but it undermines potential tools available for public health officials for future surges or future diseases. As we join the region and comply with this legal decision, we are going to continue to monitor our transmission rates and legal options regarding masking.”

The judge’s ruling comes as the case rate and positivity rate in Montgomery County, and Maryland, have risen in the past few weeks.

Metro

Metro dropped its mask requirement for riders and employees Monday night.

That covers all of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s services, such as Metrorail, Metrobus and MetroAccess.

WMATA announced it was dropping its mask requirement around 9 p.m. Monday, after earlier saying it would continue to require masks on trains, buses and in stations, as it waited for CDC guidance.

“Our mask mandate has been based on federal guidance,” said General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Wiedefeld in a statement. “We will continue to monitor this situation as it unfolds, but masks will be optional on Metro property until further notice.”

Callie Stephens had a laissez-faire view on the lifted mask mandate when speaking to WTOP’s Luke Lukert at D.C.’s Tenleytown Metro Station on Tuesday morning.

“People are gonna do what they want to do. It’s not my problem,” Stephens said.

Stephens said she’s fully vaccinated. “You’re vaccinated and you trust the science then trust the science,” she said. “If you’re not and you don’t trust it, then that’s up to you. ”

It’s more of a game-time decision for Linda Bare.

The Hagerstown, Maryland, resident told WTOP that she’ll take the temperature of wherever she is and go from there.

“When I came down [into the station], I didn’t have my mask on,” Bare said. “But then I saw a lot of people around me wearing it, so I decided to put it back on.”

Bare said she believes the choice of whether or not to wear the mask should be a personal one.

Airports

The Transportation Security Administration said Monday that it will no longer enforce mask wearing on public transit or at transportation hubs.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority — which covers Dulles International Airport and Reagan National Airport in Virginia — referred to the TSA’s and the White House’s stance on the issue.

Some major airlines updated their policies soon after judge’s order.

United Airlines is joined by Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Jet Blue and Spirit Airlines in shifting to a mask-optional stance.

Alaska Airlines said that there will be “some guests whose behavior was particularly egregious who will remain banned, even after the mask policy is rescinded.”

A family of three were traveling to California for spring break when WTOP’s Neal Augenstein caught up with them at Dulles International Airport on Tuesday morning.

Mom and dad weren’t masked, but their daughter was.

“She chooses to wear a mask because she does not want to get sick,” the mom said. “She plays many sports, so she doesn’t want anything to jeopardize that.”

Since mom and dad are vaccinated and boosted, they said they feel fine flying in a confined space for a few hours.

“I’m happy for people to do their own thing,” the dad said. “I think it’s good for the nation to move on from, you know, all the fear about COVID and disease.”

WTOP also spoke with a California student who was heading back to his home state after visiting family in the D.C. area.

The student had been vaccinated and boosted, but opted to continue wearing a mask.

“I still wear a mask, just because, out of safety, I don’t really mind too much. But I did notice that there are people wearing less masks,” the student said. “I think people should, especially with airplanes being such a confined space, but I guess if, legally, we can’t enforce it now … people have that freedom.”

He went on to say that he understands why some people felt the mask mandates intruded on their rights. Now with those lifted, he thinks that people should be respectful of each others’ health choices regardless of what they decide to do.

Trains

Amtrak has moved to a mask-optional position, while the official word from other railway services is still to come.

“While Amtrak passengers and employees are no longer required to wear masks while on board trains or in stations, masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19,” an Amtrak spokesperson told WTOP. “Anyone needing or choosing to wear one is encouraged to do so.”

Effective immediately in Maryland, masks are optional on all MDOT buses, trains and mobility vehicles, including MARC.

The same goes for the Virginia Railway Express.

“Masks are optional and VRE will continue to support those passengers and crew members who wish to wear a mask,” the agency said.

“Please be patient while we transition our onboard train communications and posted notices at our stations regarding these recent changes.”

Ride shares

Uber and Lyft no longer require riders or drivers to wear a mask during trips.

Uber mentioned that the CDC still recommends wearing a mask if you have certain personal risk factors or you live in an area that is considered high transmission. Uber also reminded its riders and drivers to be respectful of those who still decide to wear a mask.

Lyft said people are encouraged to wear a mask if they prefer.

“Masks are now optional while riding or driving with Lyft. We know that everyone has different comfort levels, and anyone who wants to continue wearing a mask is encouraged to do so. As always, drivers or riders can decline to accept or cancel any ride they don’t wish to take,” the company said in a statement.

For now, both the Justice Department and the CDC have yet to say whether they’ll appeal the ruling.

The ruling from District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle comes amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases, driven by the BA.2 subvariant. In D.C., cases have gone up by over 100% in the last week.

WTOP’s Luke Lukert, Neal Augenstein and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Matthew Delaney

Matt Delaney is a digital web writer/editor who joined WTOP in 2020.

Jack Pointer

Jack contributes to WTOP.com when he's not working as the afternoon/evening radio writer. In a previous life, he helped edit The Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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