Masks will no longer be required at Hawaii’s airports and on public transportation after a federal judge struck down a national mandate that had been extended through May 3.

This means travelers in the islands will no longer need to wear masks while flying, riding TheBus or transiting through Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and other transportation hubs.

The Transportation Security Administration noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend that people wear masks “in indoor public transportation settings at this time.”

But it will no longer enforce the former rule, which has been one of the most controversial Covid-19 prevention measures since the pandemic began more than two years ago.

“Effective immediately, the TSA will no longer enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and (in) transportation hubs,” the agency said Monday in a statement.

Mask required sign at the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
Following a ruling by a federal judge Monday, Hawaii passengers will no longer need to wear masks on public transportation. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Airlines and city buses followed suit. The Honolulu Department of Transportation Services announced that, starting Tuesday, masking would be optional for passengers of TheBus and Handi-Van.

Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva confirmed all employees and flyers could leave their masks at home.

“We ask for our guests’ patience and understanding as we update all our communications and announcements to reflect this change,” Da Silva said. “We advise travelers to stay informed and follow mask requirements that may remain in effect at their origin or arrival airports.”

Along with other major airlines, Delta said masks were now optional for all airport employees, crew members and customers “on board all aircraft domestically, as well as on most international flights.”

Delta also warned of possible confusion over the announcement, “given the unexpected nature of this announcement.”

Airlines had long pushed for the Biden administration to rescind the policy, arguing that requiring masks on planes forced staff to confront mask-resistant passengers over a restriction made redundant by highly efficient air filters.

The transportation mask mandate had been set to expire Monday. Under direction of the CDC, the TSA announced last week it was extending the requirement another two weeks to help curtail rising infections of the BA.2 omicron subvariant.

It was in response to this latest extension that U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, made her ruling. Citing the 1944 law that granted the federal government the power to fight pandemics, the Florida judge argued the term “sanitation” did not mean the CDC could enforce a blanket mask mandate.

“Wearing a mask cleans nothing,” Mizelle wrote in her 59-page ruling.

The Biden administration may opt to appeal Mizelle’s decision. Officials are “still reviewing” the ruling, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday during a press conference.

As the omicron wave subsided last month, Hawaii’s state and county governments moved to sunset their final Covid restrictions, including the statewide indoor mask mandate and the “Safe Travels” vaccine-or-test requirement for new arrivals in the islands.

With the judge’s ruling, Hawaii public schools and University of Hawaii classrooms are now some of the only places where Hawaii residents must still mask up. In a letter to parents Monday, interim superintendent Keith Hayashi wrote that masks would be required through the end of the school year, at least.

“Keeping our schools open and safe has been a collective effort and I am grateful for all that our families have done for our school communities,” Hayashi wrote.

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