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Napa’s Vine bus system lifts mask-wearing requirement after federal court ruling

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Vine bus

The Napa Valley Transportation Authority on Thursday lifted its requirement to wear masks aboard Vine buses, after a federal judge overturned the federal mask mandate for public transit that had been in effect during the two-year coronavirus pandemic.

Effective Friday, passengers will not need a face covering to board buses in the Vine system or to enter the Soscol Gateway Transit Center in Napa, the NVTA announced in a news release Thursday. The transit authority did encourage bus riders to continue wearing masks, which became mandatory shortly after COVID-19 emergency rules took effect in early 2020.

The lifting of Vine’s mask mandate follows a Monday ruling in U.S. District Court in Florida that struck down a federal requirement to wear face coverings on passenger trains, airplanes and transit hubs. Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle of Tampa ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not have the authority to enforce the mandate.

The CDC had previously announced an extension of the mandate through May 3 to allow more time to study the virus’ Omicron subvariant BA.2, which now comprises more than 85 percent of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.

NVTA originally planned an announcement on its mask policy Wednesday, but delayed it after the U.S. Justice Department said it would appeal to reverse the order that overturned the federal mandate.

On Wednesday, the California Department of Public Health announced it would no longer require masks on public transit, saying the state would align its guidance with that of federal health officials. However, Dr. Tomas Aragon, the state’s public health officer, continued to recommend mask use during travel, citing the crowding and lack of ventilation at airports, train stations and other venues.

The Justice Department is filing an appeal seeking to overturn a judge’s order that voided the federal mask mandate on planes and trains and in travel hubs. The notice came minutes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked the Justice Department to appeal the decision handed down by a federal judge in Florida earlier this week. A notice of appeal was filed Wednesday in federal court in Tampa. The CDC says it is its “continuing assessment that at this time an order requiring masking in the indoor transportation corridor remains necessary for the public health.” 

Reaction to the lifting of mask requirements has varied among the Bay Area’s public transit systems. As of Wednesday, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District had ended their mandates. However, other agencies including the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, Caltrain and Solano County Transit said they would either continue requiring masks, or await further federal and state guidance.

BART announced Wednesday it would make masks optional on its trains in and around San Francisco, but the authority’s board of directors said it will discuss a new, temporary mask mandate at its next meeting April 28, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

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You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or hyune@napanews.com

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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