Fauci Says End of Plane Mask Mandate 'Unfortunate,' Judge 'Superceded' CDC

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, has criticized a recent Florida court order that overturned the requirement to wear face masks on public transportation.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle on Monday ruled that the face mask mandate for travelers, which had been extended from April 18 to May 3 by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) earlier this month, was unlawful.

The TSA said it had extended the public transport mask mandate at the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and against a background of increasing COVID cases across the country.

But Mizelle, who was appointed by former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2020, said the CDC didn't adequately explain its reasoning behind the mandate and didn't allow for public comment, CNBC reported.

Following her ruling, major U.S. airlines including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines relaxed their face mask rules on domestic flights and some international ones.

Train company Amtrak did the same, but also noted that "masks are welcome and remain an important preventive measure against COVID-19."

Fauci, an infectious diseases expert, expressed disappointment later in the week that the rules were allowed to be relaxed after the mandate and its extension were overruled.

Speaking to the Nashville Tennessean, Fauci said the reason the face mask mandate extension was introduced was because the CDC "wanted to see what the pattern of infection is during this bit of a surge we're seeing [in parts of the country]."

He added: "I think it's unfortunate that a court order came in and, I believe, superseded the authority of the CDC."

Earlier in a press briefing on Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called Mizelle's ruling "a disappointing decision" and said that the CDC and Department of Homeland Security were reviewing the decision.

John P. Moore, professor of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University, told Newsweek that he thinks Mizelle's ruling "will surely be appealed and overturned." He added: "Wearing a mask is a basic, common sense safety precaution that is extremely easy to do and only minimally inconveniences people."

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appeared pleased by the decision. He tweeted on Monday: "Great to see a federal judge in Florida follow the law and reject the Biden transportation mask mandate. Both airline employees and passengers deserve to have this misery end."

COVID cases in the U.S. have remained relatively low for several weeks following a record winter spike driven by the Omicron variant, which saw over 800,000 people being infected in a day at its peak.

CDC data shows that the seven-day moving average of new cases exceeded 40,000 on Tuesday for the first time since early March, suggesting that cases are on an increasing trend.

Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capital Hill, Washington D.C., on January 11, 2022. Fauci has expressed disappointment that the U.S. mask mandate for public transport was blocked by a federal judge. Greg Nash/Pool/Getty