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By Monserrat Apud de la Fuente

PHOENIX – Many employees and passengers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport were happy Tuesday to regain a sense of normalcy and exercise their own choice on wearing masks.

The day before, U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle in Florida struck down the Biden administration’s COVID-19 mask mandate for airplanes and public transportation. The White House may appeal the court ruling, according to Reuters.

“In accordance with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) no longer enforcing the federal mask mandate, face masks will no longer be required for employees and customers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport,” airport spokesperson Gregory Roybal said in a statement.

Roybal said the airport will continue providing masks in vending machines and free masks at information counters.

“I’m glad it has been lifted,” traveler Frank Monahan said Tuesday as he entered a Sky Harbor TSA security checkpoint wearing a mask. “Obviously, I’m wearing mine still, but that is personal preference. I’m trying to be as careful as I can, but I look forward to taking it off whenever I feel like it, especially aboard the airplane.”

Titus James, who’s in charge of keeping Terminal 4 clean, is happy to see the ruling. “When you say ‘Good morning’ to someone and they smile, it kind of helps your day.” (Photo by Monserrat Apud/Cronkite News)

Steve Dausch, who has volunteered at Sky Harbor for six years, estimated that about a third of passengers traveling through the airport Tuesday were not aware the federal mask mandate, which was enacted in January 2021, had been halted. The mandate was extended five times, according to USA TODAY; the latest extension was set to expire May 3.

Anthony Garcia, who was flying home to Hawaii from Phoenix, said he liked not having to mask up.

“I just like being able to breathe again, with the mask it was so hard for me to breathe,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to recommend wearing a mask on public transportation, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a Monday briefing. U.S. COVID-19 cases have dropped precipitously over the past few months; however, the CDC is studying an uptick in cases attributed to the omicron BA.2 subvariant.

“It feels better in the airport because you get to see peoples’ faces. … Everyone is hiding behind the mask, and you don’t see them smiling,” said Titus James of Flagship Airport Services Inc., who’s in charge of keeping Terminal 4 clean. “When you say ‘Good morning’ to someone and they smile, it kind of helps your day.”

At Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, spokesperson Ryan Smith said in a statement that masks still are recommended within the terminal but not required.

(Video by Raven Payne/Cronkite News)

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