WASHINGTON — President Biden said on Tuesday that Americans should decide for themselves whether to wear masks, undermining his administration’s efforts to urge Americans to continue wearing face coverings on planes, trains and buses, even after a federal judge lifts a nationwide mask mandate. the public had abolished. transport.
The decision to wear a mask is “up to them,” Biden told reporters during a trip to New Hampshire to promote infrastructure spending.
The Biden administration is not ruling out an appeal against the ruling, but it could take several days for the Justice Department to decide whether or not to challenge the ruling.
The patchwork of messages caused confusion less than 24 hours after the verdict was handed down. The president, caught between politics and science, left it to the Americans to make their own choices. His press secretary urged Americans to follow existing health guidelines because that’s what the president would do. and dr. Ashish K. Jha, the government’s coronavirus response coordinator, said on Twitter that he was: disappointed in the ruling and that, for example, he would still wear masks on airplanes.
A wave of federal agencies, city transportation authorities and private companies said they would no longer require travelers to wear masks after a federal judge appointed by former President Donald J. Trump on Monday invalidated a mandate in effect since February of last year. Just days earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had extended the mandate to May 3 to assess the state of the pandemic.
The ruling surprised and frustrated White House officials, two senior officials said. But on Tuesday, when travelers aboard planes were instructed by pilots to unmask and riders aboard transit systems, including in Washington, became mask-free, the Biden administration has not drawn up a detailed plan to challenge the ruling, even as public health experts warned that the CDC’s power to prevent the spread of a contagious virus was at stake.
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the decision to remove the masking decision should have rested with the CDC, not the courts.
“Public health decisions shouldn’t be made by the courts, they should be made by public health experts,” Ms Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to New Hampshire. “We have clear confidence in our authorities here as we have put in place the mask mandate and asked for an additional 15 days to review data based on public health information.”
But the government’s confidence in its ability to enforce the masking requirements ran counter to the wider reality that many masking rules seemed to disappear within hours of the ruling. (Some, including in New York City, remain in place.) The Transportation Safety Authority said Monday it would stop enforcing the CDC mandate. Several airlines, including Delta and United, told travelers that masks would not be mandatory; some travelers heard the news mid-flight.
Some White House officials said they would try to combat an inaccurate assessment of the threat the virus poses to the public. After Delta told its passengers that the virus had “transformed to a regular seasonal virus,” said Kevin Munoz, a White House spokesperson. tweeted that the virus still posed a threat†
In addition to the patchy responses, Mr. Biden’s advisers have attempted to assess the effects of the ruling, desk by desk, to find out what the response should be, an official said.
dr. Julie Morita, the executive vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who served on Mr Biden’s coronavirus advisory committee during his presidential transition, said she hoped the Biden administration would appeal the ruling.
“It really undermines the CDC’s public health authority to impose requirements that really help prevent the transmission of disease between states and internationally,” said Dr. Morita in an interview. The agency, she said, must have “the authority to implement these protective measures”.