Why The Battle Over Mask Mandate Is Crucial To CDC And Their Responses to Future Pandemics

Legal battle over mask mandate is crucial to CDC's ability to respond to future outbreaks

The role that the federal government plays in containing future epidemics will hinge on the outcome of an appeal of this week's court ruling that overturned the mask mandate for travelers on airlines, trains, and the nation's mass transit systems.

A federal court judge in Florida said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had overstepped its authority in requiring masks on public transportation, a mandate that legal experts considered well within the bounds of the agency's charge to prevent the spread of covid-19 across the nation.

The CDC said late Wednesday that it had asked the Department of Justice to appeal the decision. That will put the issue before one of the nation's most conservative-leaning appellate courts, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Public health experts worry the ruling, unless overturned, will hamper the agency's ability to respond to future outbreaks.

If CDC can't impose an unintrusive requirement to wear a mask to prevent a virus from going from state to state, then it literally has no power to do anything.

The outcome of the appeal will shape what the agency does the next time an outbreak occurs. And the ongoing debate highlights a civics lesson: The U.S. gives most responsibility for public health measures to states. The federal role has been more limited but could be further clarified by Congress.

The case comes as Congress and the country remains sharply divided over just about everything having to do with the pandemic, so passing any kind of legislation could prove impossible. That leaves the courts to interpret what is already on the books.

The latest case, filed in Florida by a group opposed to medical mandates, centers on a federal law called the Public Health Service Act of 1944. The law gives federal officials the authority to make and enforce regulations to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. Those could include inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation" and other measures that in its judgment may be necessary.

Whitehead, Sam, et al. “Legal Battle over Mask Mandate Is Crucial to CDC's Ability to Respond to Future Outbreaks.” CNN, Cable News Network, 21 Apr. 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/04/21/health/cdc-power-mask-mandate-khn/index.html. 

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