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Bay Area transit agencies end mask mandates days after federal judge strikes down national mask requirement

Mercury News 4/20/2022 Summer Lin
FILE PHOTO --- SAN JOSE - JUNE 7: Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority buses drive on South First Street in San Jose, Calif., on Monday, June, 7, 2021. (Randy Vazquez/ Bay Area News Group) © Provided by Mercury News FILE PHOTO --- SAN JOSE - JUNE 7: Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority buses drive on South First Street in San Jose, Calif., on Monday, June, 7, 2021. (Randy Vazquez/ Bay Area News Group)

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, Bay Area Rapid Transit, Caltrain and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced Wednesday they were dropping their mask requirements aboard buses, trains and paratransit vehicles and at facilities.

The news comes after a federal judge in Florida voided a mask mandate on mass transit and airplanes Monday, prompting airlines to roll back their masking requirements. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously extended the mandate through May 3. The CDC announced Wednesday it would appeal the ruling, declaring in a statement “at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health.”

But for now, airlines, airports, ride-sharing companies and many transit agencies have dropped their mask mandates as the legal and political showdown over masks continues to play out.

“In light of recent decisions by the federal government to lift mask requirements on public transit, VTA is strongly recommending, but not requiring passengers and employees to wear masks,” said VTA spokesperson Stacey Hendler Ross in a news release.

Ross emphasized that the lifting of requirements “does not signal an end to the COVID-19 pandemic” and that experts “still recommend wearing face masks in a variety of settings, including mass transit.”

The VTA in the process of taking down signs requiring masks.

Caltrain, BART and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on Wednesday afternoon also announced they would no longer require riders to wear masks inside their vehicles and facilities. However, all three agencies encouraged riders to continue wearing masks.

“While masks are no longer required, guests can and are strongly encouraged to continue wearing them,” Caltrain said in a social media post announcing the shift in policy.

AC Transit, Golden Gate Bus and Golden Gate Ferry, and SMART train have made masks optional, as have Santa Cruz Metro. BART said in its statement Wednesday that the agency’s board would consider a mask-requirement policy at its April 28 meeting.

“I’m not quite sure what to do. I’ve got congestive heart failure, diabetes and I’m in a wheelchair and completely dependent on public transportation,” said Thom Mayer, a 73-year-old Sunnyvale resident who uses paratransit. “I take the light rail to church in downtown San Jose. I don’t want to miss church but I also don’t want to die right away. We all know we’re gonna die at some point but I don’t want it to be this week or next.”

Mayer, who said he will now have to make a choice between riding public transit with unmasked passengers or staying home, emphasized that wearing masks is “primarily to protect your neighbors.”

“I am double-vaccinated and double-boosted and I do have a life to live,” he added. “Public transit is sort of my window into it so I don’t know what to do at this point.”

Staff writer Jason Green contributed to this report.

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