Transit agencies continue to try and sort out how to proceed after a federal district judge overturned the nationwide mask mandate on public transit earlier this week. Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it has now filed a formal appeal to that ruling at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All of which means you can expect a little mask-related confusion to continue. Whether you're asked to mask up might depend on what agency you're traveling with.
As of Wednesday afternoon, BART announced there are no longer any federal, state, or local directives that would allow BART to enact a mask mandate. BART said that as of right now, masks are optional and strongly encouraged on BART. However, the BART board will consider a proposal to require masks at their April 28 meeting.
Get a weekly recap of the latest San Francisco Bay Area housing news. Sign up for NBC Bay Area’s Housing Deconstructed newsletter.
This update from BART comes after the transit agency said earlier in the day that masks were still required while the agency reviews its options and seeks clarity from the state.
At the Warm Springs transit center in Fremont, most passengers who spoke with NBC Bay Area said they plan to continue wearing masks on all trains and buses, regardless of what the federal or agency rules are.
"We think it’s a good idea, we like it, we feel safe," said Jyothi Chintapalli of mask-wearing while on transit.
"I feel safer with my mask and social distancing," said Oakland resident Ruby Starks who was taking BART to her new job in Fremont.
"I still wear my mask," Starks continued. "I might go to the corner store and not wear my mask, stuff like that, but [when I'm] going other places where there’s a lot of people at I like to keep myself protected."
Many transit agencies are now shedding their former masking rules.
Masks are now recommended but not required on Amtrak, CalTrain, SFMTA, VTA, AC Transit, County Connection, and at any major Bay Area airport.
For Muni drivers and operators, it's a welcomed change after two long years.
"We can at least say there’s going to be less of a burden on transit operators ... when an operator would say ‘hey, passenger you need to put your mask in the name of health and safety, in the name of following the law,’ often times the operator would be put in a nasty situation," said Roger Marenco, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 250A.
But you might want to keep your mask handy if you are moving between different transit agencies.
"It's very confusing, I feel like they should just pick one or the other," said Fremont resident Kayla Pierce of the mask requirements. She said all the changing rules about masks have been confusing to follow.
While the fate of the mask mandate gets ironed out in court, Pierce said she'll be leaning on lots of different strategies to protect herself from COVID-19.
"You can go wash your hands, put on hand sanitizer, keep your distance --that’s up to you," she noted.
While masks are optional now on lots of transit agencies, many, such as AC Transit, say they strongly recommend passengers and employees wear masks, citing the spreading BA2 subvariant of COVID-19.
UCSF's Dr. Peter Chin-Hong said that would be safer.
“I think it’s easier to protect the public with everyone wearing masks at this time. I’m not saying it’s something we need to do indefinitely," he said. "But I think right now, given how dynamic the numbers are we’re not really sure where [COVID] is going.”