CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Public transit employees and passengers in West Virginia are beginning to remove their face masks for the first time in two years.
“It’s going to be optional,” Sean Hill, executive director of the Kanawha Valley Regional Transportation Authority, said of the new policy.
A federal judge in Florida knocked down the mask mandate on planes, buses and trains Monday. The Biden administration then confirmed the requirement will no longer be enforced.
KRT was busy making changes to signage on buses Tuesday. Hill said while they are complying with the federal order, they’re still encouraging masks on board, per CDC guidelines.
“We’re still recommending that our passengers wear masks,” Hill said. “We prioritize the health and safety of our staff and our riders before anything, but we’re also aware that this mandate has been lifted; therefore, we’re making that optional to all of our passengers and our staff.”
Some other transportation systems in the state were taking a more gradual approach.
Morgantown-based Mountainline General Manager Dave Bruffy said the mask policy is a local policy like shoe and shirt requirements that can only be changed by the Mountainline Board of Directors.
“Mountainline actually put that requirement in place before TSA and CDC did,” Bruffy said. “So, it’s a motion by the board that they will have to rescind if they want to roll that face covering requirement back.”
The board will hold a special meeting Friday to review the matter. The meeting will include a public comment period.
“I’d encourage anyone that wants to participate in that to listen to that to dial in and listen, if you care to do so,” Bruffy said.
Hill said there haven’t been any outbursts from passengers refusing to wear masks over the last two years like some airlines have experienced, but he said there has been a general exhaustion from the ongoing mandate.
“There’s been some fatigue on behalf of passengers and our employees as far as wearing the masks, but I wouldn’t say it’s gone so far as any type of tension or negative feedback to us,” he said.
KRT transports about one million people each year, so Hill said he believes the mandate has helped keep people safe in an enclosed space.
“A million people through a system when you’re getting on a bus when that driver is exposed to countless individuals every single day, that’s our concern, and the passengers getting on and you don’t know who is sitting there with you,” Hill said.
The Transportation Security Administration is not enforcing masks in airports nationwide including West Virginia International Yeager Airport in Charleston.
State Coronavirus Czar Dr. Clay Marsh acknowledged the ruling during Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing at the state Capitol.
“Planes, particularly for domestic travel, and trains masking will be optional and TSA will accommodate that finding,” Marsh said.
In a Monday statement, the TSA writes, “Due to today’s court ruling, effective immediately, TSA will no longer enforce its Security Directives and Emergency Amendment requiring mask use on public transportation and transportation hubs. TSA will also rescind the new Security Directives that were scheduled to take effect tomorrow. CDC continues to recommend that people wear masks in indoor public transportation settings at this time.”
Meanwhile, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the ruling “disappointing” during a briefing on Monday, noting that the administration is reviewing the decision, which they could choose to appeal.