In light of a federal court ruling that struck down the nationwide mask mandate on airlines and transit, local public transportation agencies on Monday and Tuesday began rolling back their requirements that riders wear face coverings.
Immediately after the Monday ruling, Seattle-area agencies largely kept their current policies in place, albeit without strong enforcement mechanisms. By late Monday and early Tuesday, however, that shifted.
Eight Seattle-area transit agencies — Community Transit, Everett Transit, King County Metro, Kitsap Transit, Pierce Transit, Seattle Department of Transportation, Seattle Center Monorail and Sound Transit — said in a joint statement Tuesday that masks are now optional.
“In accordance with yesterday’s statement from the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA), agencies providing transit to riders throughout the Puget Sound region announced that face coverings will no longer be required on transit, at transit facilities or in transit hubs effective today,” the statement said.
The agencies reiterated that masks are still welcome for those who wish to wear them. Signage may take some time to update, the agencies said.
King County Metro spokesperson Sean Hawks thanked riders for their widespread mask usage – up to 90% – and said the agency would continue mitigation efforts it started at the beginning of the pandemic, including disinfection, air filtration and contactless payment.
After initially announcing it would maintain its rules on masking, Washington State Ferries said Monday evening that face coverings would be optional on its boats and in terminals. In its notice to riders, the ferry system reminded passengers that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends wearing masks indoors.
Outside of the Seattle area, transit authorities in Whatcom, Clark, Benton-Franklin and Spokane counties repealed their requirements.
In Oregon, Portland’s TriMet also said masks would be optional.
Jaime Smith, spokesperson for Gov. Jay Inslee, said the governor’s office would continue to encourage people to wear masks in crowded spaces, like public transportation. “We acknowledge the mixed reactions to the ruling, and to the changes generally happening in regards to mask policies,” she said.
The ruling striking down the federal mandate came from a federal judge in Florida, who deemed it outside of the scope of the CDC. The Department of Justice said Tuesday it would appeal the ruling. The mandate had been set to expire May 3.
The ruling’s effect was immediate and widespread, with videos circulating online of airline passengers taking their masks off midflight.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, Public Health – Seattle & King County’s health officer, expressed concern about the lifting mandates with cases rising in many communities, new variants, risks to people due to age or underlying health conditions and children under the age of 5 not yet able to get vaccinated.
“I don’t think the timing of dropping the federal transportation mask mandate is very good,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “Activities associated with travel in enclosed conveyances presents increased risk. Using high-quality masks can provide protection both against infection and spreading infection and has no significant downsides for most people.”
For more information on changing mask rules in the Seattle area, Washington state and across the country, visit st.news/maskrequirements.