Rail Runner, ABQ buses and the Sunport do away with mask mandates for travelers

Masking is recommended but not required anymore

By: - April 19, 2022 2:45 pm

Passengers exit a plane. This week a judge ruled that the federal mask requirement on public transit should not be enforced, prompting airlines and public transportation systems to lift the mask requirement. The Center for Disease Prevention and Control still recommends people wear mask in indoor transportation settings. (Photo by Austin Fisher / Source New Mexico)

UPDATE: Tuesday, April 19, at 4:30 p.m.
The U.S. Department of Justice and CDC released a statement Tuesday evening saying the entities, “disagree with the district court’s decision and will appeal, subject to CDC’s conclusion that the order remains necessary for public health.” NBC News reports that the DOJ will not seek an emergency stay while it appeals the court’s ruling, meaning the mask mandate will not be in effect during the appeals process.

A decision by a federal judge in Florida on Monday regarding mask requirements under COVID-19 protections is now impacting travel in New Mexico.

Commuters on the Rail Runner this evening can choose not to wear the mask they had to put on during their morning ride, as train officials announced midday that mask enforcement is over.

Signs reminding people to mask up will be removed from Rail Runner train cars and near ticket kiosks. Starting tomorrow, the conductor’s announcement regarding face coverings will say that masks are recommended, but they are optional for riders, said Augusta Meyers, Rio Metro Regional Transit District spokesperson.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Transportation Security Administration still recommend masks for people traveling in indoor public transportation settings like trains, planes and buses

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Kahtryn Kimball Mizelle says the CDC failed to adequately explain the reasons for the mask mandate and violated federal procedures by issuing new rules without public comment. Mizelle was appointed to the bench in 2020 by former President Donald Trump.

Federal judge in Florida throws out national mask mandate for travelers

Health Freedom Defense Fund, an Idaho-based advocacy group that challenges COVID-related restrictions, and two Florida women who argued that wearing masks on planes aggravated their anxiety brought the suit in July 2021.

A separate suit filed in March by a coalition of mostly Republican governors from 21 different states also contests the federal mask requirement. Monday’s order is separate from the case brought by the states.

New Mexico is not in that lawsuit but keeping up with federal guidelines means travelers in the state will have the option to expose the lower half of their face in crowded transit. 

“Public transportation was one of the last bastions of mask enforcement,” Meyers said. “We’ve seen the mask requirements become relaxed in several other areas, and now it’s making its way to public transport.”

Shortly after 9 a.m., the Sunport sent a tweet declaring the end of the mask requirement inside the airport. “Masks will now be optional for Sunport passengers, employees, and visitors. Mask or no mask, please be kind and respectful while traveling.” This followed many airlines making the same announcement after the court ruling.

This morning the City of Albuquerque also lifted mask enforcement on buses. ABQ Ride spokesperson Lorena Sanchez said this extends to all modes of transit including the SunVan, a service offering ADA-compliant paratransit rides for people with disabilities.

Sanchez said drivers will have the option to wear a mask and that plexiglass windows separating passengers from the driver will remain. 

The Rail Runner will keep some of the routines designed as safety measures during the pandemic. For instance, air filters that were replaced monthly before the pandemic are now being changed out weekly as a way to provide better air quality for riders, Meyers said. There are also discussions about keeping ticket purchases a cashless transaction. 

Meyers said train officials are confident in following the new federal guidelines and did not share concerns of a judge — not a public health expert — when making a decision impacting public health policy.

“It’s not really up to us to say whether it’s the correct choice, you know. It’s just this is what we follow,” Meyers said. “We are still recommending people do wear a mask. It’s just not going to be enforced.”

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.