Boston urges masks as battle brews over transit rule

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FILE – Travelers wearing face masks as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus move through a terminal at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, April 19, 2022. Airlines have banned several thousand passengers since the start of the pandemic for refusing to wear masks. Now they want to pick up most of those passengers. United Airlines and American Airlines officials said Thursday, April 21, 2022, they would lift bans now that masks are optional on flights. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, file)

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Boston urged people to start wearing masks on Thursday, and the Biden administration weighed its next legal step in what’s shaping up to be a high-stakes court battle over the abrupt end of the nation’s mask mandate on planes and planes. public transport.

The Boston Public Health Commission noted an increase in hospitalizations, along with a 65% increase in cases and an even larger increase in COVID-19 levels in local sewage samples. He also stressed that the guidance was only a recommendation and not an order.

The country is grappling with how to navigate the next phase of the pandemic and strike the right balance in enacting health measures at a time when many Americans are ready to move on after two grueling years.

A federal judge in Florida this week rejected a nationwide mask mandate on mass transit, and airlines and airports responded quickly Monday by repealing their requirements that passengers wear face coverings. That put the Biden administration in the position of trying to navigate a call that could have broad ramifications for the power the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has to regulate future health emergencies.

Los Angeles County bucked national trends and said Thursday it would still require masks on public transportation, including trains, subways, buses, taxis and rideshares. Cases have increased over the past week and hospitalizations have plateaued after falling in the previous two months.

Philadelphia last week became the first major city to bring back a mask mandate, responding to a rise in infections and hospitalizations there, but the city abruptly reversed course Thursday night and ended the mandate. Other cities in the Northeast have been watching trend lines and a new color-coded map from the CDC closely to decide on next steps.

The map the CDC moved to in late February focuses less on positive test results and more on what’s happening in hospitals to give community leaders clearer guidance on when to incentivize masking. Nearly 95% of US counties still have low transmission based on the map, but more places have moved to medium and high transmission in recent weeks, including many places in upstate New. York.

Nationwide hospitalizations have increased in recent weeks, but are far from the peak reached at the height of the omicron push.

“COVID-19 cases have been rising rapidly across the city, so we need people to be vigilant and take precautions that can help us avoid another potential surge,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, executive director of the Boston Commission. “Living with COVID-19 is a matter of collective responsibility and collaboration. »

She said Bostonians should mask up indoors, stay up to date with their vaccinations and test for suspected infections.

Boston’s recommendation came two days after the city’s transit system lifted mask requirements in response to the national transportation ruling, reflecting the hodgepodge of reactions to the court ruling by a person appointed by former President Donald Trump.

As the Biden administration prepares for an appeal, Lawrence Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University, said a “monumental battle” is brewing, with the CDC’s future at stake. agency continues to recommend people wear masks in all indoor public transport settings.

“The question the courts are going to have to decide, and the public will have to decide, is when the next health crisis hits – and it will – will we have a strong public health agency to protect the population?” he said. “Or will the CDC just have its hands tied behind its back? I think it’s very possible that we’ll see the CDC handcuffed.

Although the Supreme Court overturned the housing agency’s eviction moratorium, this was more at the limit of the agency’s authority. Establishing rules for mask-wearing on public transportation is a fundamental and essential part of the power of the CDC, Gostin said.

“If someone takes a flight from New York to Los Angeles, no state is stopping them. The only thing stopping that transmission is the CDC,” Gostin said.

Temple University law professor Scott Burris echoed that sentiment, saying the U.S. government’s legal authority to reasonably respond to disease outbreaks and other types of emergencies is at stake in this. affair.

Burris said the ability to handle future health emergencies “must have weighed heavily” in the Justice Department’s reasoning for appealing the decision, “but let’s not forget that we are entering another wave” and that there is potential for new variants.

An appeal would go to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considered a right-wing court, and conservative justices have a majority on the US Supreme Court. A ruling could remove the CDC’s authority to issue mask orders and place any future orders under a “legal cloud,” he said.

Craig Green of Temple Law said the federal government’s strategy is “really almost brilliant” because it could win either way with its appeal. If the number of COVID-19 cases continues to drop, Justice Department lawyers could argue that the question is moot and ask that the case be dismissed.

“No one will have reason to cite it in the future as a precedent,” he said.

But he said if cases spike, the federal government would be in a better position to reimpose a mask mandate.

“I think the arguments about what a government can do, what the federal level can do under emergency conditions was very difficult and problematic,” he said. “I can understand why the Department of Justice and the United States government really didn’t want to see that kind of limit on their authority going forward, even if COVID ends up being more controlled going forward.

Amid the court battle, American, United and Delta have all said they will lift bans they have imposed on passengers who refuse to wear masks now that masks are optional on flights.

“We spoke to them individually,” United CEO Scott Kirby told NBC on Thursday. “Many of them assure us that now that the mask mandate is lifted, everything will be fine, and I hope the vast majority of them will.”

Many passengers were unaware of the changes. When Jon Schaudies flies from Chicago to San Antonio next week, he’ll be wearing a mask, but won’t worry if the passenger next to him isn’t doing the same.

Schaudies, who travels frequently as the vice president of a small manufacturing company, believes he is sufficiently protected from the COVID-19 vaccine and booster to avoid getting seriously ill if he does contract it.

“I feel like people are at such extremes, but I’m kind of in the middle,” said Schaudies, 51, who plans to get a second booster shot.

He understands the concerns of parents traveling with children too young to be vaccinated, but says “they have a decision to make” on whether to fly. “But for business travelers, we can’t stop.”

“The world has to go on at some point.”

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Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas, and Whitehurst from Salt Lake City. Associated Press writer Carla K. Johnson contributed from Seattle.