RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As many passengers remove their masks on planes, trains and other forms of public transportation, some health experts are concerned that a federal judge’s decision this week could impact the nation’s public health response for years to come. 

On Monday, a federal district court judge in Florida struck down the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask requirement, saying the agency had exceeded its authority. 

“To second guess and say that they are unable to make public health recommendations sets a terrible precedent for other future diseases,” Dr. David Weber said, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine. “The idea that people don’t feel a social responsibility to protect others really is a poor reflection on our society.” 

Following the judge’s decision, various public transit agencies and airlines have had to decide whether to continue requiring masks. Raleigh-Durham International Airport said Monday evening that masks are optional for visitors and employees, though signs remained in place Tuesday saying the requirement was still in effect. 

Dr. Weber said he thinks it’s “too soon” to lift the requirement, noting the spread of omicron subvariants and that of immunocompromised people still face increased risk, including when they travel. 

“It seems to me as a measure of public safety, we should have continued requiring masks when people don’t have the option of leaving on public transportation,” he said. “We have, to me, a public duty to protect those individuals, particularly in a setting where there’s no choice. Once you’re there and you close the door, you can’t do anything about it.” 

He added he hopes the Biden administration appeals the decision. 

Greg Wallace, a professor at Campbell Law School, said he does not think any appeal would be successful, given the ideological makeup of the courts.

He also said the CDC’s interpretation of the law in issuing the mandate “was really a stretch.”  

He noted that the administration’s decision on whether to appeal would have both legal and political ramifications, adding that cases and hospitalizations are still down significantly compared to the last surge even as new subvariants of omicron emerge.  

“The risk obviously has gone down considerably over the last several months. Litigating this right now, the timing of this is not good,” Wallace said. “I think they know these mask mandates are in the rear-view mirror, people are ready to move on” 

He said if the administration chooses not to appeal, other federal district courts would not be bound by the decision this week in Florida if the issue of masking arises in the future. 

As passengers at RDU Airport learned about the decision on masks, some were conflicted about whether they would continue wearing them on planes.  

Edgar Gaisie, of Durham, said he doesn’t ordinarily wear a mask in places where they’re not required anymore but did wear one for his flight Tuesday.  

“I think for everybody it’s just a process of getting comfortable with it,” he said. “It doesn’t feel right (removing it). It feels weird. And, I never thought I would get to this point.” 

Max Rudow, who was visiting the area from Utah, was glad the mandate was lifted.  

“I’m excited. When I got to the airport, I was excited that I didn’t have to wear one,” he said, adding that on his flight it was a 50-50 mix of people wearing masks versus those who didn’t.