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2 Tampa Bay women seek end to airline mask mandate in federal lawsuit

The women have joined the Wyoming-based Health Freedom Defense Fund in the lawsuit against the Biden administration, the CDC and Health and Human Services.
Sarah Pope of Lutz is a member of the anti-mandate Health Freedom Defense Fund and publishes a blog and YouTube channel called The Healthy Home Economist. In a video on her channel, Pope said she wants to promote health the way her generation’s grandparents experienced it.
Sarah Pope of Lutz is a member of the anti-mandate Health Freedom Defense Fund and publishes a blog and YouTube channel called The Healthy Home Economist. In a video on her channel, Pope said she wants to promote health the way her generation’s grandparents experienced it. [ YouTube ]
Published Aug. 3
Updated Aug. 4

Two Tampa Bay women uncomfortable wearing masks on airplane flights are partnering with a not-for-profit Wyoming organization to sue federal authorities over the requirement that people wear masks while using public transportation.

Sarah Pope, 57, of Lutz, and Ana Carolina Daza, 49, of Safety Harbor, joined in the suit filed with U.S. District Court in Tampa against the Biden administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Related: Florida leads the nation in kids hospitalized for COVID

The Health Freedom Defense Fund, the main plaintiff in the case, says the federal government exceeded its authority with the mask mandate.

“This is really an issue of, ‘Do the citizens have a voice in things that impact them on their daily lives?’” said George R. Wentz Jr., an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Representatives of the Biden administration, the Centers for Disease Control, and Health and Human Services did not respond to requests for comment about the suit. Pope and Daza could not be reached for comment at phone numbers listed under their names.

Related: Tracking delta variant in COVID cases: How does CDC diagnose virus strain?

On Jan. 21, President Joe Biden signed an executive order requiring people to wear masks as a means of protecting against the spread of COVID-19 during domestic and international travel. On Jan. 29, the CDC released an order requiring the use of masks on public transit and in transportation hubs, such as bus stations and airports.

“Traveling on public transportation increases a person’s risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 by bringing people in close contact with others, often for prolonged periods, and exposing them to frequently touched surfaces,” the CDC says on its website. “Staying 6 feet away from others is often difficult on public transportation conveyances. "

In the lawsuit, attorneys argue that the mask mandate is “arbitrary and capricious” in excluding those under age 2 without considering the impact masks have on those who are covered by the order. The attorneys also argue that Biden’s order was an improper use of legislative authority.

The Health Freedom Defense Fund is campaigning to end mask, vaccine and covid testing mandates. The fund’s website includes printable notices to employers saying that mask, testing and vaccine requirements violate federal law.

“When government gets into the business of mandating what people can and can’t do with their bodies, I think that we have a problem,” Leslie Manookian, founder and president of the Health Freedom Defense Fund, said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

“If government can mandate those things what else can government mandate?” she added. “Can government mandate that you get an abortion? Can government mandate that you take antidepressants? Can government mandate that you take any other kind of a medication?”

Manookian said the fund takes to the courts to fight mandates that its members believe to be unjust.

Both Sarah Pope and Ana Carolina Daza are members of the fund, Manookian said.

Related: Florida sets coronavirus daily case record, CDC data show

Pope publishes a blog and YouTube channel called The Healthy Home Economist. In a video on her channel, Pope said she wants to promote health the way her generation’s grandparents experienced it.

“When they got sick, they didn’t need the crutch of pharmaceuticals or antibiotics to get better,” she said in the video. “They just got sick and they got well.”

Recently, Pope skipped a family trip to Hawaii because she said wearing a mask for the entire flight would give her anxiety, according to the lawsuit. She still flies to see her mother in Virginia and wears a mask as required but avoids long flights.

Daza usually takes an annual trip to visit family in Colombia and is planning to travel in August. According to the lawsuit, she feels like she cannot breathe while wearing a mask and feels the urge to remove it. She said she also experiences headaches and shortness of breath. A doctor’s note diagnosing Daza with anxiety does not grant her an exemption from the mask mandate, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit filed in Tampa includes declarations from three additional members of the Health Freedom Defense Fund detailing travel plans that were affected by the mask mandate.

According to travelpulse.com, at least three other lawsuits have been filed challenging the federal mask mandate on pubic transportation, including one other case in Florida.

A Washington, D.C., resident sued after he was prevented from boarding a flight out of Orlando in June, for not wearing a mask. In his lawsuit, the man said he had a qualifying disability that exempts him from the mask mandate and had been stranded in The Villages because of the rule.

The mask requirement has also faced challenges from a rideshare driver in Illinois and a “frequent flyer” and attorney from Hollywood, Calif.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also faced challenges to COVID-19 restrictions it imposed on cruise ships amidst the pandemic.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sued the agency in an attempt to restart voyages. A federal judge in Tampa threw out the CDC’s rules, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision then left it in place, and DeSantis has asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a ruling.