By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday recommended travelers continue to wear masks in airplanes, trains and airports despite a judge's April 18 order declaring the 14-month-old transportation mask mandate unlawful.
The CDC said it based its recommendation on current COVID-19 conditions and spread as well as the protective value of masks.
The Justice Department last month filed notice it will appeal the ruling and it has until May 31 to do so. But the government has made no effort to seek immediate court action to reinstate the mandate.
The mask mandate had been due to expire on Tuesday just before midnight unless the CDC sought an extension of a Transportation Security Administration directive.
A CDC spokeswoman said, "As a result of a court order, the mask order is no longer in effect and is not being enforced."
At a Senate hearing Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg cast doubt on the idea that the administration wanted to reimpose the mask mandate.
"The appeal concerns whether the CDC has the authority to (require masks) in this pandemic or in any pandemic, which is completely distinct from whether a mask mandate ought to be applied any given day," Buttigieg said.
Buttigieg said he agreed that based on conditions on April 13 when the mandate was extended for 15 days that it should have been allowed to expire but said it was a CDC decision.
Hours after the April 18 ruling, the Biden administration said it would no longer enforce the mask mandate, which prompted airlines to let passengers end wearing masks mid-flight. Passengers report now that on some flights 10% or fewer air travelers are wearing masks.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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