Yampa Valley Airport, Steamboat buses no longer require masks after ruling
A Florida judge’s ruling on Monday, April 18, leaves few places in Routt County where a mask is still required.
The ruling voided the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s order requiring people to wear masks on airplanes, trains, buses and at other transportation hubs, and immediately led to people doffing their masks.
Locally, both Steamboat Springs Transit and Yampa Valley Regional Airport are no longer requiring masks for passengers or employees in accordance with the ruling.
“It’s for me a huge relief that our drivers don’t have that requirement anymore,” said Jonathan Flint, Steamboat Springs Transit manager. “Being, as we called ourselves, ‘the mask police,’ was tough on drivers, so I’m very glad that they can get back to just concentrating on driving.”
The U.S. Department of Justice has signaled the agency may appeal the ruling, according to the New York Times. Still, this depends on whether the CDC feels there is still a need for the mandate that, before Monday’s ruling, was set to expire on May 3.
The Transportation Safety Administration and the Federal Transit Administration have both issued guidance that neither agency will be enforcing a mandate, but they emphasized that masking is still recommended by the CDC in these spaces.
Flint said decals and signage saying masks are required on Steamboat’s buses will be removed. If a mandate were reinstated, Flint said, the messaging on buses would be quickly restored.
“We’ll still have masks on board the buses, and we’ll still make them available to passengers and drivers, but there is no requirement,” Flint said.
Kevin Booth, director of the Yampa Valley Regional Airport, said airport staff are also working to remove signage saying masks are required, though he intended to leave up other messaging about people washing their hands and staying home when they feel sick.
“There’s still a good reason to do some of the other things that we were doing,” Booth said. “We’ll continue to follow those public health guidelines.”
Lauren Bryan, infection preventionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, said the mandate coming to an end wasn’t unexpected, but it could be a scary development for people who are at higher risk for a severe case of COVID-19.
“It shifts the onus from a community health perspective now to the individual having to really protect themselves,” Bryan said. “And that’s hard for people who are immunocompromised. It feels unfair and unkind to people who, through no fault of their own, are vulnerable.”
The change also comes as New England is seeing increased cases of COVID-19 because of the new omicron variant BA.2.12, which Bryan said is showing to be more infectious and seems to be causing more cases of reinfection. Bryan said currently about 20% of all U.S. cases are from this variant.
Bryan said she still plans to wear a mask in places like airports or on a plane, and research shows that masking is still effective at helping prevent the spread.
A Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report published by the CDC in February showed wearing an N95 or surgical mask greatly reduced the likelihood of contracting COVID-19. Bryan said she would recommend that people wear a mask in any situation where they are densely packed together.
“Just keep that mask in your back pocket,” Bryan said. “If you’re in a situation where you feel like there is a lot of people in close proximity, that’s when you need to whip out that mask and throw it on.”
One of the few places masks are still required is in medical settings where there are a lot of people vulnerable to COVID, though some hospitals are starting to loosen requirements in some situations, Bryan said.
“When we do eventually at some point reduce masking for staff in the hospital, it’ll again feel very awkward, just like this new ruling feels awkward,” Bryan said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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