US surgeon general: 'This whole administration is now supportive of masks'

US surgeon general: 'This whole administration is now supportive of masks'

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Monday implored Americans to wear masks in public, saying that the entire Trump administration, including the president, believes they are one of the most effective tools to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.   

But Adams stopped short of pushing for a nationwide mask mandate, arguing that a federal order would need a "federal enforcement mechanism." He cited the tensions in Portland, Ore., following the deployment of federal law enforcement in the city as a reason why such a mandate could cause problems for local communities attempting to quell the virus's spread. 

The comments came as parts of the U.S. experience a sustained surge in coronavirus cases, causing many states to pause reopening plans and implement orders requiring face coverings. The uptick in cases has led to a more public push from state leaders and top health officials for the use of face masks.

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Adams emphasized while appearing on "Fox & Friends" that "this whole administration is now supportive of masks."

"Moving forward, I want people to understand, we’re all on the same page," Adams said, citing President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE's recent comments in which he expressed support for their use. "We believe [masks] are one of the most effective ways to open our country, along with making sure we’re practicing social distancing and making sure we're practicing good hygiene."

Trump has been reluctant to wear face coverings in public settings. He wore a mask for the first time earlier this month during a visit to Walter Reed hospital to meet with patients at the facility. But in comments made to Fox News's Chris Wallace on Friday, he said that he opposed calls to issued a nationwide order mandating masks. 

“I want people to have a certain freedom and I don’t believe in that, no,” Trump said, before noting that he considers himself a “believer in masks."

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Adams voiced support for Trump's remarks Monday, saying that he "would rather help people understand why they should cooperate with wearing a mask and how they benefit from it versus simply saying we’re going to force you to do it."

"If you’re going to have a mandate, I think those work best at the local and state levels, where you have the ability to work with people, educate them and not let them feel like there’s an outside entity trying to tell them what to do," he said. 

But Adams also argued that the politics of masks was getting in the way of health recommendations. He stressed that the high degree of asymptomatic spread was the ultimate reason why mask recommendations were issued. 

"Face coverings are a way that we can reopen and that we can stay open. That’s what the science says," he said, noting that up to 50 percent of coronavirus infections could be spread from people without symptoms. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) first recommended the use of face coverings to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in April. The agency last week released guidance stating that the U.S. could get the pandemic under control if face masks are worn universally. 

"If we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really think over the next four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control," CDC Director Robert Redfield said in an interview.

In lieu of a nationwide mandate, dozens of states have issued statewide orders requiring people to wear face masks in public settings where social distancing is not possible. Colorado and Arkansas became the latest states to require face coverings last Friday. 

As of Monday, the U.S. had reported more than 3.7 million cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and more than 140,000 deaths stemming from it. 

Trump has repeatedly said that the U.S. testing capacity is a cause of the high case count, though health officials have disputed the assertion.