California will no longer require masks on public transit and at transit hubs like bus stops and airports following the federal mask mandate for transit being struck down this week.
California Department of Public Health Director and state Public Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragon said in a statement Wednesday that the state has modified its masking guidance to align with that of federal health officials.
“Going forward, California will strongly recommend masks on all public transportation and in transit hubs, including bus and train stations, ferry terminals and airports,” Aragon said. “These crowded settings should be considered high risk and may often not have adequate ventilation, an additional layer of protection against the virus.”
Transit agencies across the state have scrambled this week to determine their immediate masking policies after a U.S. district court judge on Monday struck down the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask requirement for public transit and airplanes.
The CDC had previously announced an extension of the mandate through May 3 to allow more time to study the omicron subvariant BA.2, which now comprises more than 85 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.
Federal officials have said they are considering appealing the district court judge’s ruling, but have yet to announce a formal decision.
The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority dropped its mask mandate Wednesday for riders and employees, as did the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District.
VTA officials said masks will still be strongly recommended on buses, light rail and paratransit vehicles, but that they will not be required by the agency.
BART said in a statement Wednesday morning that it will also make masks “optional but strongly encouraged” throughout its system.
However, BART Board of Directors President Rebecca Saltzman is expected to introduce a proposal at the board’s next meeting, scheduled for April 28, to continue requiring masks on BART trains.
Other Bay Area transit agencies, including the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and Caltrain also said they would lift their mask requirements in light of the state’s new guidance.
“We strongly recommend that masks continue to be worn on transit, paratransit and taxi vehicles, to help protect passengers who remain at higher risk to COVID-19, including older adults, and some people with disabilities,” Muni said in a statement.
Aragon noted in his statement that high-quality masks continue to be an effective method of preventing the spread and contraction of COVID.
“We continue to monitor federal action on this issue and will announce any additional changes to state policies as needed,” he said.