PACE bus in downtown Evanston.

Terry Syverson waited for the bus at a downtown Evanston street corner, mask down around his chin.

Terry Syverson waits for bus on Davis Street.

But Syverson said once he boarded the bus, the mask would quickly go up over his mouth and nose, “because I’d rather be alive.”

“You never know if anybody will be vaccinated or not,” Syverson said about his fellow passengers.

Three days after a federal judge struck down the nationwide mask mandate for riders on trains, buses, and airplanes, and two days after Gov. J.B. Pritzker lifted a similar mandate in Illinois, an informal look at Evanston passengers found that mass transit, for the most part, is still mask transit.

Red Line L train near Fullerton.

I rode the L on Wednesday from Evanston to the Chicago Loop and back, a Purple Line/Red Line trip. Nearly all the riders were wearing masks, with only a handful providing a face full of exhaled breath to their fellow passengers.

At the Davis Street Metra station on Thursday morning, a loudspeaker announcement proclaimed “Given Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s announcement, starting immediately masks will be welcomed but not required while traveling on Metra.”

Passengers boarding Metra train at Davis Street Thursday morning.

Lara Allison was taking the train to work in Chicago. Allison said she will still wear a mask onboard, “just because I’m around people I don’t know. I just feel safer.”

Two women visiting from Europe, friends from attending college together in the United Kingdom, were also boarding the train, and would sit next to each other.

One of the women, from the UK, said she was not going to wear a mask.

“I don’t think they do much, especially if not everyone is wearing them,” she said.

But her friend, originally from France, said she would put on a face covering, because she was “still not used to being around a lot of people on public transit” without wearing a mask.

Nationwide, there is still confusion about mask requirements. Some cities, like Chicago, do not require mass transit masking. But others, including New York and Philadelphia, still do.

Adding to the uncertainty, the federal Department of Justice is now appealing the federal judge’s mask ruling, hoping to get the requirement reinstated.

The Centers for Disease Control has said the mandate is necessary for public health, adding that “wearing masks is most beneficial in crowded or poorly ventilated locations” such as transit.

However, some legal analysts say the Justice Department’s appeal may be more about the right to issue mandates in the future should conditions significantly deteriorate, rather than to have the previous rule put back in place.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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