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Mask mandate ruling is ‘about as incoherent as possible,’ former White House adviser says

Dr. Zeke Emanuel, vice provost of global initiatives at UPenn and former White House health poilcy adviser, criticizes a judge's recent ruling overturning the federal mask mandate on public transit.

Video Transcript

RACHELLE AKUFFO: Welcome back, everyone. Where do mask mandates go from here after a Florida federal judge reversed the CDC's mask mandates for airlines, airports, and mass transit? Let's break it down with Dr. Zeke Emanuel, UPenn's vice provost of global initiatives and former White House health policy advisor, and our very own health reporter, Anjalee Khemlani. So, first of all, what do people need to know about this Florida ruling and the changes for now?

EZEKIEL EMANUEL: Well, the main changes are that there's-- CDC can't impose a mask mandate on air travel, train travel, bus travel, interstate travel. They should also know it's a terrible ruling. It's about incoherent as possible. If I were grading as a professor, it would certainly-- maybe a B minus, maybe a C plus. It's very bad ruling. But it does mean that if you want to protect yourself, you're going to have to wear a mask. And that, frankly, gives you less protection than if everyone around you was wearing a mask, and you're wearing a high quality mask. So we're all going to be less protected.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: Zeke, where do we go from here? I know the CDC wants to overturn it, and there's, obviously, confusion as a result because companies have to put in place some of these policies. So what do you see unfolding moving forward?

EZEKIEL EMANUEL: Well, I think the CDC and the Department of Justice wants to appeal it because they want to establish the CDC's ability to actually make rulings in this area for public health in interstate commerce. And I think that's pretty clearly their prerogative, given the law.

But I think as far as wearing masks on planes and trains and such, I don't think we're going back unless the pandemic gets substantially worse. When you have the big airlines peeling it back and things, it's hard to reverse it and go in the other direction. So I think, unfortunately, this was a one-way door, not driven by public health, driven by political considerations, and frankly, not very smart reasoning.

ANJALEE KHEMLANI: I'm glad you brought that up because it seems like political consideration is exactly what has been deemed the underlying factor here, and also to set up for the summer when we know, of course, it's going to be a very political season. And for the administration to be able to basically ease their way out of the pandemic in, at least, words and actions, what do you think about that strategy?

EZEKIEL EMANUEL: Well, I mean, look, it's very hard to predict the future, especially with COVID. It's surprised a lot of people and experts. There's no one who's gotten it right. I don't even know that there are many people who have gotten over 70% of their predictions accurate. I think over the summer, we're likely to buy-- we're likely to go up now and maybe fall in early June.

How bad this is, I don't know, but, you know, everyone was saying, oh, look, we've got cases going up, but hospitalizations aren't going up, on the other hand. If you look at it, the fact is that in 20 states, hospitalizations are going up. And maybe this isn't so benign a condition as people thought. But I think that sometime in early to mid-June, we're probably going to be on the downward side of the curve.

What I'm really worried about is the fall. We're going to bring people back together. People are going to have traveled extensively over the summer. And I think that we are seeing a lot of evolution of this virus. And so you're going to see a lot more variants and maybe, unfortunately, some that are a bad combination of highly transmissible and virulent. We just don't know. I have told my university, you have to prepare for a surge in the fall. And we have to be aware of that. And I think that is, if I were thinking as a head of a company or head of institutions or head of organizations, I think you have to be prepared for that.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: So then, to that point then, you mentioned organizations. Depending on how much pushback you get, depending on where you are and what the company policy is, how are companies supposed to navigate this period so that they try and stay compliant when you have employees saying, look, the mandate has been lifted. I shouldn't have to do this.

EZEKIEL EMANUEL: Well, I think that depends upon the companies sticking to, I think, what the experts are saying. That's what a judge with no medical training and no public health training has said. And I think you have to say, listen, when we're indoors and we're collecting for meetings, we want you to wear-- continue to wear a mask.

That's what I do at my office. That's what I do with the students I teach. Every student has to have an N95 mask on when we're in class, and we have air filtration systems going. We want to protect everyone. And I can tell you that this current surge, we have a lot of students out because of contracting COVID or being exposed to another student who's had COVID.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And something you have to remember, even though we've all got COVID fatigue. Obviously, COVID still front and center there. A big thank you to Dr. Zeke Emanuel there and Yahoo Finance's own Anjalee Khemlani.