Transportation agencies on the North Olympic Peninsula have shifted to optional masking policies in light of Monday’s federal court ruling that lifted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s masking mandate on public transit.
Both Clallam and Jefferson transit authorities have announced masking is now optional on buses. Masks also are optional on state ferries, while Black Ball Ferry Line on Tuesday was awaiting information from Canadian authorities about how the U.S. lifting of the mandate will affect its passengers.
The regional health officer was concerned that the move is too soon, especially as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
“I think it’s unfortunate that this was lifted as public transit is a high-risk environment for disease spread,” said Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.
Masks will be available through April 26 for Jefferson Transit passengers who want them, and other COVID-19 safety measures will continue, said Nicole Gauthier, interim general manager for Jefferson Transit Authority.
“While masks are no longer required, Jefferson Transit continues to support safety on its vehicles by purifying bus air using ultraviolet light air cleaners, encouraging the board of vehicles via rear-door access, and remaining a zero-fare on all services except the Kingston Express,” Gauthier said in an email on Tuesday.
Masks will be available for a time for Clallam Transit passengers who want them, according to General Manager Kevin Gallacci.
Black Ball Ferry Line, which runs the Coho ferry between Port Angeles and Victoria, requested clarification from the Canadian government, said Ryan Malane, vice president and co-owner of Black Ball Ferry Line.
“We should know very soon and will post it on our site,” which is at cohoferry.com, Malane said.
The Dungeness Line is following the guidance provided by its parent company, Greyhound, which announced Tuesday that masking on Greyhound buses and in terminals will be optional unless a masking mandate remains in effect in a given municipality and when buses cross international borders.
Berry said health officials will monitor spikes in COVID-19 cases.
“This is the first time we have not seen a rapid rise in severe disease, and much of that is likely due to everyone having some level of immunity, whether you are vaccinated and boosted or have had COVID-19 before,” Berry said.
Nevertheless, Berry recommended those who use public transit wear high-quality masks on public transit despite the lifting of the federal mandate.
Travelers to Seattle should be aware that public transportation in Seattle still will require passengers to wear masks, according to The Associated Press.
King County Transit, Sound Transit and Kitsap Transit, which offers ferry service to Seattle, all have said their masking requirements will remain in place despite the ruling from a U.S. District Court Judge in Florida on Monday.
“Sound Transit will maintain its decals and other mask-related signage until we have received further updates from the federal government,” Sound Transit spokesperson John Gallagher said.
Washington State Ferries, however, has announced that masking is optional on its ships and in its terminals but noted that masking is still strongly recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Delta Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue dropped the masking mandate immediately, with some pilots going so far as to announce the lifting of the mandate mid-flight.
Masking may still be required on international flights to regions where masking mandates are still in effect.
Most airports in the U.S. lifted the masking mandate as well, with Seattle-Tacoma International Airport announcing travelers were no longer required to wear masks in the airport but noted that some airlines may still require passengers to mask up, although most have made masking optional.
The federal Justice Department said Tuesday it will not appeal the Florida federal district judge’s ruling that ended the nation’s federal mask mandate on public transit unless the CDC believes the requirement is still necessary.
Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said Tuesday that officials believe the federal mask order was “a valid exercise of the authority Congress has given CDC to protect the public health.”
Coley said the CDC had said it would continue to assess public health conditions, and if the agency determined a mandate is necessary for public health, the Justice Department would file an appeal.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].
Jefferson County Senior Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz contributed to this story.