Court ruling lifts CDC’s transportation mask mandate

Face coverings no longer required on the MBTA, airplanes, rideshares


MASKS WILL no longer be required on MBTA vehicles and properties, Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials announced Tuesday afternoon, a day after a federal judge in Florida struck down a nationwide masking mandate on public transportation systems.

“The Commonwealth has followed federal guidance in terms of face coverings and to be consistent with that, we are lifting the face covering mandate at the Commonwealth’s transportation hubs and on most public transportation vehicles,” Transportation Secretary Jamey Tesler said in a statement.

On Monday, US District Court Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle voided a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention masking requirement for public transportation, ruling the mandate “exceeds the CDC’s statutory authority and violates procedures required for agency rulemaking,” court documents said.

As a result of the ruling, the Transportation Security Administration said it would no longer enforce an order requiring masks on public transportation and in transportation hubs. Airlines on Monday immediately began doing away with mask requirements. Ride-sharing services, including Uber and Lyft, moved in the same direction. And mass transit systems across the United States can now decide for themselves whether to keep or shed masking requirements.

MBTA General Manager Steve Poftak said while masks are no longer mandatory on trains, buses, and ferries, riders can still cover their faces if it makes them feel more comfortable.

“The MBTA remains committed to safety and will continue adhering to all CDC and Massachusetts’ public health guidance,” Poftak said in a statement. “The T is continuing to clean vehicles and stations regularly and upgrade air filtration systems.”

As part of the updated TSA guidance, MassDOT said travelers using Massachusetts Port Authority facilities like Logan International Airport or the Conley Container Terminal in Boston will also no longer be required to wear face coverings.

Massachusetts Port Authority officials began removing signs associated with masking requirements at Logan Airport earlier Tuesday morning, a Massport spokesperson told the News Service.

“In line with the TSA’s guidance, mask wearing will now be optional within our airport facilities and on Logan Express buses,” Massport CEO Lisa Wieland said in a statement. “There may still be certain requirements onboard international flights, so we would encourage those passengers to check with their airline and destination.”

Massport also oversees the Worcester Regional Airport and Hanscom Field in Bedford.

Doctors and public health officials said the mask ruling will likely increase risks for travelers and urged them to wear high-quality N95 or KN95 masks while traveling.

Speaking to reporters at the State House Tuesday afternoon about masking on the MBTA, Gov. Charlie Baker pointed to high vaccination rates in Massachusetts and the increased availability of COVID-19 treatments.

He said 80 percent of people in Massachusetts are fully vaccinated, and among those over the age of 65, “it’s more like 95 percent of people are fully vaccinated.”

“We also continue to have other kinds of therapeutics available. None of that existed when this pandemic began,” Baker said. “Those are big changes in terms of how we should be thinking about the way we deal with it going forward.”

In Boston, the seven-day moving average for COVID-19 test positivity rates sat at 6.8 percent, above the 5 percent threshold of concern city officials have set, according to data from the Boston Public Health Commission updated Tuesday.

The CDC has identified Suffolk, Middlesex, and Berkshire Counties as having a medium risk for COVID-19. The risk levels — low, medium, or high — take into account hospital bed usage, hospital admissions, and total number of new COVID cases in an area, according to the agency.

Baker said the state has been “pretty good” at giving people space to wear a mask if they feel it is necessary because of their unvaccinated status, if they have unvaccinated people in their family, live with immunocompromised people, or are immunocompromised themselves.

Meet the Author

Chris Van Buskirk

Guest Contributor, State House News Service
“But I think it’s important for us to make our decision based on both the policy matter, the legal matter, and the practical issues that are involved in this,” he said in regards to masking on the MBTA.

Asked if Americans should continue wearing masks, President Joe Biden said Tuesday that it’s “up to them,” adding that he hadn’t “spoken to the CDC” about whether the Department of Justice should appeal the Florida court ruling on travel masks, according to White House pool reports.