Los Angeles County Again Requires Masks on Public Transit

Los Angeles County will issue a new COVID-19 health order effective Friday that will again require masks to be worn on all public transit within the county.

Masks will again be required on all public transit within L.A. County, including buses, trains, taxis and ride-hailing service vehicles, under a new COVID-19 health order that will take effect Friday.

The order will also again require masks at all indoor public transportation hubs, including airports and bus terminals.

Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Thursday the order is based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s opinion that mask-wearing on transit remains an essential step in preventing spread of COVID-19.

“They are experts,” Ferrer told reporters during an online briefing. “They made a determination that at this point having that requirement in place is necessary for the public’s health, and that resonates with us.”

At the urging of the CDC, the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday appealed a ruling made earlier this week by a federal judge in Florida that struck down the U.S. government’s rule requiring masks to be worn on public transportation, most notably aboard airplanes.

U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled that the CDC had exceeded its authority in issuing the mask-wearing mandate on transportation systems. But on Wednesday, the CDC issued a statement saying it continues to believe that requiring masks in indoor transportation settings “remains necessary for the public health.”

“CDC will continue to monitor public health conditions to determine whether such an order remains necessary,” according to a statement from the agency. “CDC believes this is a lawful order, well within CDC’s legal authority to protect public health.”

In response to Mizelle’s ruling on Monday, public transportation agencies across Los Angeles County announced that masks would become optional, including aboard Metrolink commuter trains and on Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses and rail lines. Los Angeles International Airport and Hollywood Burbank Airport also announced that masks were optional.

Ferrer said the county’s renewed order, which will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Friday, will reinstate mask orders in all of those settings. The rule will not apply to people aboard airplanes, which are beyond the county’s jurisdiction.

She said she feels “really, really sorry” that the new county order will likely create confusion among residents feeling a sense of “whiplash” due to rapidly changing rules. But she noted that the CDC never changed its recommendations regarding mask-wearing on public transit, and said the Florida court ruling was made by “a federal judge with little experience in public health” who questioned the CDC’s authority.

Ferrer said public transportation settings can often be crowded, putting people in cramped environments with sometimes-little ventilation, conditions that can spur the spread of the virus.

She stressed that the county is still seeing “a lot of transmission” of COVID-19, and the infectious BA.2 subvariant of the virus is continuing to spread — now representing 84% of all local cases that undergo special testing to identify variants. A pair of offshoot “sublineages” of BA.2 have now also been identified, one of which has already been linked to “significant spread” of cases in parts of New York.

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