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TSA lifts mask mandate following federal ruling

The mandate, put in place in 2021, sought to limit the spread of COVID-19 while people traveled. The judge said health officials overstepped their authority.

NORFOLK, Va. — The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has lifted its mask mandate for travelers, in accordance with a federal judge's ruling on Monday.

On Monday evening, TSA released the following statement: 

"Due to today’s court ruling, effective immediately, TSA will no longer enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs. TSA will also rescind the new Security Directives that were scheduled to take effect tomorrow. CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time."

Norfolk Airport Authority Executive Director Steve Sterling said the airport is encouraging masks for passengers, visitors, and employees, but not requiring them.

When a Hampton Roads couple, AJ and Mary Alys Distacio, flew to Florida last week, they had to mask up, but coming home to Norfolk Tuesday, everything changed.   

“Got to the airport this morning, most people weren’t wearing masks. We thought, 'Wow," said AJ Distacio.

But, not all passengers are taking off their masks. A traveler at Norfolk International Airport (ORF), Vinnie Brown, said she travels a lot and will keep wearing a mask to protect her mother.   

“I am on a plane next to someone for four hours at least every flight," Brown said.

Leaders with the Newport News, Williamsburg International Airport said there are no mask mandate policies at the airport. 

The mandate, put in place in 2021, sought to limit the spread of COVID-19 while people traveled. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently extended the mandate through May 3 as health officials continued to monitor the spread of the Omicron variant. 

RELATED: Masks no more: Where in Hampton Roads the travel mask mandate is no longer in effect

The decision by U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Tampa, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, said the mandate exceeds the authority of U.S. health officials in their response to COVID-19.

She also said the CDC improperly failed to justify its decision and did not follow proper rulemaking procedures that left it fatally flawed.

The mandate covered the different ways people traveled. In response to the ruling, transportation officials in Hampton Roads are having to change up their COVID-19 policies.

The ruling comes as more people are flying out of Norfolk following a downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to ORF officials, nearly 772,000 people traveled through the airport between January and March 2022, an 83% increase from the same period in 2021 (nearly 422,000 passengers).

Additionally, HRT data shows that significantly fewer people have used public transit in Hampton Roads since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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