RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Public transportation systems in Virginia are responding after a judge struck down a federal mask mandate impacting airports, buses and trains nationwide.
The CDC’s mandate was first issued on Jan. 29, 2021. It was previously set to remain in effect through May 3rd.
At least for now, that blanket requirement is effectively dead and individual service providers can make their own decisions.
The CDC continues to recommend masks for indoor public transportation and some travelers are taking their advice.
Meanwhile, others shed their masks at Richmond International Airport on Tuesday after hearing the news.
Troy Bell, marketing director for the Capital Region Airport Commission, confirmed that masks are no longer required within public-facing spaces, including the terminal building and concourses.
Several major airlines and Amtrak have removed their requirements for staff and passengers on board.
The Transportation Security Administration said in a statement after the ruling on Monday that it will no longer enforce the federal mask mandate.
Virginia Transit Association Deputy Director Danny Plaugher said its members are following the federal government’s lead. Plaugher said they represent more than 42 public transportation systems across the state.
“There is some leeway in that they could still require it, but all the ones that I’ve spoken with are making masks optional, but making sure that drivers and passengers continue to feel comfortable wearing them on the services,” Plaugher said.
Plaugher said mask-optional policies may change if the Biden Administration decides to fight the judge’s ruling and TSA shifts its guidance.
“Those guidelines may be reinstituted. All our agencies are just following what’s happening on the federal level,” Plaugher said.
GRTC Transit System confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that it will not be enforcing its mask mandate.
“We ask the community to work with us as we refine our policy to keep our operators and riders safe, and as we message the ruling to our operators. We desire to implement dual door boarding on May 2nd, and we ask for leniency from the community as we communicate this message internally to our operators. We still encourage riders to wear a mask while using our services,” said GRTC Spokesperson Ashley Mason.
Plaugher said Governor Glenn Youngkin’s opposition to mask mandates hasn’t been a factor in their member’s decisions not to maintain requirements.
Youngkin’s office didn’t respond when asked if he would attempt to block requirements from being reinstated through executive action.
The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation also didn’t comment, nor did Attorney General Jason Miyares. Miyares opposed the CDC mandate by joining other states in a lawsuit challenging the order last month.
The judge’s ruling doesn’t appear to impact masking on school buses.
The CDC removed buses or vans operated by public or private school systems from its order at the end of February.
“CDC is making this change to align with updated guidance that no longer recommends universal indoor mask-wearing in K-12 and early education settings in areas with a low or medium COVID-19 Community Level,” the agency said, explaining the change.
A new state law in Virginia generally makes masks optional on school property.