The Biden administration asked an appeals court on April 11 to reinstate the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate following a critical legal victory last week, while the White House’s COVID-19 coordinator said the administration is willing to prolong the mask mandate based on a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) decision.
A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed a January nationwide injunction order by Judge Jeffrey Brown—appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of Texas by former President Donald Trump—ruling that the federal judge didn’t have jurisdiction in the case. The panel noted that those seeking a challenge should have pursued administrative remedies under civil service law.
The 2–1 win paves the way toward the reinstatement of the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate, while the Justice Department has requested that the New Orleans-based appellate court take “appropriate steps so that the government may resume implementation and enforcement” of the mandate.
The judgment is set to take effect on May 31, but the recent request would move up the timeline for speedy mandate renewal. The department argued that the urgency is “justified by the serious ongoing harm to the public interest and to the government.”
President Joe Biden initiated the executive order on Sept. 9, 2021, mandating that all 3.5 million government employees get vaccinated against COVID-19, with exemptions for religious and medical reasons, or face disciplinary action, including termination.
Soon after the mandate was issued, the administration was hit with lawsuits as numerous organizations and individuals challenged it, including Feds for Medical Freedom, a grassroots coalition that filed the lawsuit.
According to the White House, more than 93 percent of federal employees have received at least one vaccination, and 98 percent have been vaccinated or are seeking a religious or medical exemption.
Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said the federal mask mandate—applicable to public transportation, transit hubs, airports, and airplanes—could be extended beyond its current April 18 deadline.
“This is a [CDC] decision, and I think it is absolutely on the table,” Jha told the “TODAY” show on April 11, noting that the White House’s decision would be based on the “framework that the CDC scientists create.”
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has been criticized for publishing confusing and sometimes contradictory messages regarding COVID-19 policies. During the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant last year, Walensky’s statement regarding wearing masks for vaccinated individuals initially opposed the World Health Organization’s guidelines.
Jha said an announcement regarding the mask mandate would be made in “the next few days.”
The BA.2 Omicron coronavirus subvariant currently accounts for 72.2 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the United States and is more transmissible than the original variant. However, it’s considered to be less severe.
Philadelphia announced that it would be reimposing the mask mandate for indoor premises next week after a rise in the number of cases.