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Mask mandate lifted at New Orleans airport, RTA after judge voids federal COVID rule

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Paul Braun
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Passengers collect their bags at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. Nov. 19, 2021.

New Orleans’ airport and public transit system lifted their mask mandates Tuesday, after a federal judge voided a nationwide mask mandate for public transportation on Monday.

A statement issued Tuesday morning said face masks are now optional at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, effective immediately.

The New Orleans airport’s announcement comes after the Transportation Security Administration said masks would no longer be mandatory in transportation hubs, which signaled to airports across the country to drop the mandate as well.

Many of the nation’s largest airlines have lifted masking requirements on domestic flights. Here’s a list of the airlines and their announcements:

New Orleans Regional Transit Authority announced that its transit operators will no longer enforce its mask mandate on the city’s buses, streetcars, ferries, paratransit vehicles and at RTA facilities.

“The RTA, in concurrence with the CDC, continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time,” RTA spokesperson Arian Randolph said in a written statement.

Amtrak is no longer requiring passengers or employees to wear masks on its trains or in its stations. Uber will no longer require drivers or riders to wear masks.

The public transportation mask mandate had been set to expire April 18. But last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced it would extend the mask mandate on transit through May 3 in order to monitor the impacts of the BA.2 subvariant of omicron, which public health experts say is highly contagious and is currently on the rise in the northeast U.S.

Then, on Monday, a federal judge in Florida struck down the travel mask mandate, writing in a 59-page ruling that the CDC had exceeded its authority and violated rulemaking procedures. The judge, Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, was appointed by former President Donald Trump.

The Biden administration’s response to the decision remains under review.

"This is obviously a disappointing decision," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday, according to NPR. "The CDC continues recommending wearing a mask in public transit."

Public health experts have widely criticized the move, noting that removing the mandate could have a negative impact on COVID-19 cases. Some noted that proper ventilation is difficult to enforce on public transit, particularly on planes, where large crowds of people are huddled together for long periods of time.

In New Orleans, RTA operators were hit particularly hard by the virus in the spring of 2020, when they continued interfacing with residents as the city became an early epicenter for COVID-19.

Carly Berlin is the New Orleans Reporter for WWNO and WRKF. She focuses on housing, transportation, and city government. Previously, she was the Gulf Coast Correspondent for Southerly, where her work focused on disaster recovery across south Louisiana during two record-breaking hurricane seasons. Much of that reporting centered on the aftermath of Hurricanes Laura and Delta in Lake Charles, and was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center.

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