Fauci urges state, local leaders to 'be as forceful as possible' on masks

Fauci urges state, local leaders to 'be as forceful as possible' on masks
© Greg Nash

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciTillis appears to reinforce question about COVID-19 death toll Overnight Health Care: Trump signs largely symbolic pre-existing conditions order amid lawsuit | White House puts off action on surprise medical bills | Rising coronavirus cases spark fears of harsh winter NY health officials to review any vaccine approved by Trump MORE urged state and local leaders on Friday to take strong action on face masks, calling their widespread use one of the most important steps needed to safely reopen the country.

“I would urge the leaders — the local political and other leaders — in states and cities and towns to be as forceful as possible in getting your citizenry to wear masks,” Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said in a live-streamed event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

About half of all states now require masks in public spaces when social distancing isn’t possible following numerous studies that show face coverings can slow the spread of COVID-19.

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“Practically, when you're living your life and trying to open up a country, you are going to come into contact with people, and for that reason we know that masks are really important and we should be using them, everyone,” added Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force.

While mounting evidence shows face coverings can slow the spread of the coronavirus, governors have until recently been slow to implement statewide mandates.

The first states issued requirements in April. Three months later, half of the states still don’t have similar mandates, but most allow localities to set their own rules, and many have done so.

In the past week, as COVID-19 cases surge in dozens of states, Republican governors in Alabama and Arkansas and Democrats in Colorado and Louisiana issued orders requiring masks in public when social distancing isn’t possible. Mandates in Montana and Mississippi also took effect this week in dozens of counties.

Other governors have been strongly opposed to issuing statewide rules. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has rejected calls to issue a statewide requirement and even issued an executive order blocking localities from implementing their own rules. On Thursday, he sued Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D), arguing her city’s mask measure violates his executive order.

Iowa and Nebraska are the only other two states that don’t have statewide mask rules and also block localities from issuing their own requirements.

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Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma don’t have statewide mandates but allow localities to take action.

Still, some health experts say mask rules need to be uniform if they are to be as effective as possible.

The Trump administration has signaled it will leave the issue to state and local governments to decide instead of issuing a federal mandate. 

“We leave it to localities to make the decisions with regard to face coverings, and the CDC guidelines remain the same today: recommended, but not required,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Thursday, referring to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.