Boston urges masks as battle brews over transit rule
Boston urged people to start wearing masks Thursday and the Biden administration weighed its next legal step in what is shaping up to be a high-stakes court fight over the abrupt end of the national mask mandate on airplanes and mass transit.
The Boston Public Health Commission noted a rise in hospitalizations, as well as a 65% increase in cases and an even larger spike in COVID-19 levels in local wastewater samples. It stressed that the guidance was not an order, but a recommendation.
Los Angeles County said Thursday that it will still require masks for public transit, including subways, buses and taxis. Hospitalizations have increased in the last week after declining for the past two months.
Philadelphia last week became the first big city to bring back a mask mandate, responding to a rise and infections and hospitalizations there, but the city abruptly reversed course Thursday night and ended the mandate. To determine next steps, other Northeast cities have been closely monitoring the trend lines and a newly colored map from CDC. The map that the CDC changed to in February is less focused than positive test results. It focuses more on what’s going on at hospitals to give community leaders clearer guidelines about when to encourage masking. Nearly 95% of U.S. counties still have low transmission based on the map, but more places have shifted to medium and high transmission in recent weeks, including many places in upstate New York.
Hospitalizations nationally have ticked up in recent weeks but are nowhere near the peak reached at the height of the omicron surge.
“COVID-19 cases have increased rapidly citywide, so we need people to be vigilant and take precautions that can help us avoid another potential surge,” said Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, the Boston commission’s executive director. “Living with COVID-19 is about collective responsibility and working together.”
She said people in Boston should mask indoors, stay up to date with their vaccinations and test for suspected infections.
” The question that the courts and the public will have decide and the public will have decide is “When the next health crisis will hit — and it will — will there be a strong public agency to protect the population?” he stated. “Or will the CDC have its hands tied behind it’s back?” I think it’s a very really possibility we’re going to see the CDC handcuffed.”
While the Supreme Court did strike down the agency’s eviction moratorium for housing, that was more at the edge of the agency’s authority. Gostin stated that the CDC’s core power is to establish rules for mask wearing on public transportation.
” If someone takes a flight from New York City to Los Angeles, there is no state stopping them. Gostin stated that the CDC is the only thing that can prevent this transmission.
Temple University Law Professor Scott Burris shared the sentiment and said that the U.S. government’s legal authority is at stake to respond to epidemics or other types of emergencies.
Burris stated that the Justice Department’s decision to appeal the ruling was based on the ability to manage future medical emergencies. However, “but let’s not forget that we’re going to another surge” and there are potential for new variants.
An appeal would go to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considered a right-leaning court, and conservative justices have a majority on the U.S. Supreme Court. He said that a ruling could remove the CDC’s authority to issue mask orders and place any future orders under a “legal shadow”. Craig Green, Temple Law, said that the federal government’s appeal strategy is “really almost genius” and could win in two ways. If COVID-19 cases numbers continue to fall, Justice Department attorneys could argue that the issue is moot and ask to have the case thrown out.
” No one will be able to cite it in the future as precedent,” he stated.
He said that if there are more cases, the federal government would be better placed to reimpose the mask mandate.
” He said that the arguments about what a federal government can do and what the federal level can do in emergency situations were difficult and complicated. “I understand why the Department of Justice, the United States government didn’t want to see this kind of limit on their authority in future, even though COVID will be more controlled in the near future.
In the midst of the court battle, American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta all indicated that they would lift the bans on passengers refusing to wear masks, now that masks can be worn on flights.
” We have spoken to them individually,” Scott Kirby, United CEO, told NBC on Thursday. “Many of them assure us that now that the mask mandate is off, everything is going to be fine, and I trust that the vast majority of them will.”
Many passengers were shrugging off the changes. Jon Schaudies will wear a mask next week when he flies from Chicago and San Antonio. He won’t mind if his passenger doesn’t.
Schaudies, who travels frequently as vice president of a small manufacturing company, feels that he has enough protection from the COVID-19 vaccine and booster to avoid becoming seriously ill if he does contract it.
“I feel like people are at such extremes, but I’m sort of right down the middle,” said Schaudies, 51, who plans to get a second booster shot. He understands the concerns of parents who travel with young children, but he says that “they have to make a decision” about whether or not to fly. “But business travelers, we cannot stop. “
“The world has to go on at some point.”
Hollingsworth reported from Mission, Kansas, and Whitehurst from Salt Lake City. Carla K. Johnson, Associated Press writer, contributed from Seattle.
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