The Department of Justice has moved to appeal a ruling that struck down the federal mask mandate on planes, trains and transit systems after a request by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC said in a statement Wednesday that "at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health," adding that it has asked the Justice Department to proceed with an appeal.
The Justice Department said that it has filed a notice of appeal "in light of today's assessment by the CDC" in a statement late Wednesday afternoon.
The Justice Department has not asked the appeals court to block the judge's order that lifted the federal mask mandate on transit systems, meaning passengers will be able to continue traveling maskless while the decision is litigated.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle for the Middle District of Florida ruled that the travel mask mandate was unlawful, arguing that the CDC had overstepped its legal authority by imposing the mandate in February 2021.
The mandate, which was rolled out to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, had recently been extended to May 3 before it was struck down.
The Justice Department announced earlier this week that it would appeal the ruling if the CDC decides that masks are still required on public transportation.
“As we have said before, wearing masks is most beneficial in crowded or poorly ventilated locations, such as the transportation corridor,” the CDC said Wednesday. “When people wear a well-fitting mask or respirator over their nose and mouth in indoor travel or public transportation settings, they protect themselves, and those around them, including those who are immunocompromised or not yet vaccine-eligible, and help keep travel and public transportation safer for everyone.”
Because of the ruling, the White House said the Transportation Security Administration will no longer enforce masks on public transport and in transportation hubs. Several airlines, including United, Delta and American, have since issued statements saying masks are now optional.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a news conference Wednesday that the Biden administration is "deferring to the CDC on what they believe is needed at this moment."
The agency extended the mandate "because they felt they needed to take a look at the data, given that we’ve seen a rise in cases," she said, noting that the Justice Department had signaled it would appeal the judge's decision in an effort to empower the CDC during the public health crisis.
"We want to preserve that authority for the CDC to have in the future," she said.