Doctors and disability advocates urge people to wear masks on public transit

A judge ruled against mask mandates on public transit
Posted at 7:21 PM, Apr 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-27 20:21:19-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Recently a federal judge ruled against mask mandates on public transportation. This led to many cities' transit dropping it, including Omaha's Metro transit.

Metro representatives say the decision to drop their mask mandate was difficult.

"It was definitely a big decision to make," said Annie Pigaga, Communications specialist for Metro. "We highly recommend them. Especially people riding public transit and in a contained space."

Metro serves thousands, including those with disabilities. For some, Metro's services are crucial.

"It was really important for us to be able to provide this service that is critical for our riders. We saw a fair amount of people try to cancel or reschedule trips but for some of these people every trip is essential and they’re making it with a purpose so our big focus was to minimize the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible," said Pigaga.

Those who are disabled and immunosuppressed are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and having high complications from the virus, including a higher risk of death.

"We do have people in our community who are immunosuppressed who will not respond to the vaccine people who are at high risk of having severe complications some of whom through no fault of their own are not going to be able to respond to the vaccine," said Dr. Mark Rupp, Chief of Infectious Disease at UNMC.

Rupp said confined spaces that don't have a high quality of air ventilation, like public transit, should be places we continue to mask.

"We need to keep our neighbors and our fellow man in the perspective as we go about the thinking of what we should be doing to prevent transmission of Sars co-v 2 in our community," Rupp said.

In light of the judge's decision, over 100 disability, aging organizations and advocates signed a letter urging people to continue wearing masks on public transit. Saying the decision is putting people at risk.

"People with disabilities fought for decades for the right to safe, accessible transit. Those rights and our ability to participate in our communities, connect with our families, get to work, and access healthcare have all been put at risk by this decision. We are relieved that the Biden Administration will seek to appeal the decision," the letter said in part.

"Eliminating masking requirements on transit increases the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 faced by those who rely on transit to engage in community life. Disabled people of color are among the most frequent public transit users and for many, use of a personal vehicle is not an option," the letter continued.

Rupp says he doesn't agree with the judge's decision that the CDC is overstepping the boundaries, adding masking on transit isn't a big ask.

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