Biden Team Wavers on Fight Over Masks After Court Setback

  • Bloomberg Law | by: Josh Wingrove & Erik Larson |
  • 04/19/2022 12:00 AM
The CDC argued that planes, trains and airports are unique disease vectors, with passengers often jammed up against one another for long stretches of time. Still, it extended the mandate by only 15 days last week, its shortest yet, and appeared poised to lift it if cases and hospitalizations driven by the BA.2 subvariant of the coronavirus -- the pandemic’s latest threat -- don’t surge.

Appealing would be a “huge mistake” for Biden, said Peter Pitts, co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former associate commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration.

The science behind Covid-19 right now is that BA.2 typically has mild symptoms, particularly for the vaccinated and boosted, as well as a very low death rate, he said. At this point, mandatory mask wearing serves only to divide the public while serving no health purpose, exacerbating “mask PTSD” for some and serving as a “virtue signal” for others, Pitts said.

The administration has been weighing the politics, said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

There is “some tension, with a lot of state governors and legislators deciding that very comprehensive masking is not ideal,” Tobias said.

The White House had been losing support even among some Democrats in Congress for the mask mandate well before the court ruling. The Senate voted 57-40 last month to back a resolution by Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, to end the transportation mandate. Eight Democrats broke ranks, including four who face voters in November’s midterm elections: Mark Kelly of Arizona, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire.
Most senators in both parties have long since stopped wearing masks on the Senate floor.

Discussions continued within the administration on Tuesday, with some officials saying they believed an appeal was growing unlikely and others arguing it remained unclear. All the legal options were problematic in one way or another, one said.
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