WASHINGTON – As the whole country is studying what public health experts are calling the “dark winter” of coronavirus illness and death, public health specialists are collaborating around the call by Joseph R. Biden Jr. of a “national masked mission”, even if they concede such an effort would require more than a presidential brush stroke.
Over the past week, a host of well-known public health specialists – notably Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s leading infectious disease specialist, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former member of the Administration Food and Drug Administration under President Trump ̵1; said. It’s time to seriously consider the national mission to limit the spread of the virus.
Abroad this week, Russian President Putin has become the latest foreign leader to impose a national regulation that requires citizens to wear masks. Mr. Trump opposes the mission and Mr. Biden has admitted that the presidential order for all masked Americans will almost certainly face – and most likely fall into – a legal challenge.
Mr. Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, repeated the language of “dark winter” in the most recent presidential debate, and he used his bullying podium to promote and reinforce. try to wear a mask. If elected, he will almost certainly do more.
Mr. Biden has said that, as president, he would require masks on all federal assets, an executive order that could have a wide range. He may use his authority under federal transit laws to require a mask to be worn on public transport. He can also urge governors who are resisting masking missions to at least request masks in public buildings in their state.
But it’s fragile terrain in the United States, where Mr. Trump has turned the act of wearing or not masking into a political statement. Public health and legal experts say it would be much better for Mr. Biden – or Mr. Trump, for that matter – to use his power of persuasion to convince Americans that masking is to limit The spread of the virus is patriotic or citizen deliberately act.
Harold Hongju Koh, a law professor at Yale University and an expert, said: “Instead of talking about the president’s coercive authority under the law, the president should be able to support a standard that supports health. community, for the sake of the people or not. in national security and human rights.
However, Mr Trump has shown little interest in supporting such norms. At a rally on Wednesday in Arizona, he mocked California’s masked mission, saying, “You have to eat through the mask.”
Experts say there is increasing scientific evidence that masks can significantly reduce the transmission of respiratory viruses like the one that causes Covid-19. Even wearing a mask does not prevent infection, some experts claim that it can reduce the severity of the disease by reducing a person’s exposure to the virus. The study also found that states that adopted the Covid-19 lower growth mask regulation began the day the regulation was passed.
In a study published last week in the journal Nature, researchers at the Institute of Health Metrology and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimate that “mask use is common” – when 95% of people wearing a mask in public – could prevent nearly 130,000 Covid -19 deaths in the coming months, although those numbers are based on certain assumptions and could change if people change their behavior. their micro. Currently, only 69% of Americans wear a mask, according to data collected by the institute.
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Even so, any hint of a sweeping federal requirement would “pass like a leading balloon” and “divide and harden opposing regions of the country”, Joel White, said a Republican strategist with expertise in health policy. Mr White said the Trump administration’s policy of letting state and local leaders decide on the mask is “a much better way to go.”
But that has not created the compliance that public health experts say is necessary to reduce the spread of the virus. As of last week, 33 states and the District of Columbia require masks in public, according to a list compiled by AARP. But in certain parts of the country, especially the Republican states, the resistance is still deep – even as the incidents skyrocket.
Many people in rural areas consider masks as unnecessary for them because they do not live in crowded cities. In North Dakota, coronavirus infections are growing faster than any other state in the country, but according to University of Washington data, only 46% of North Dakotans wear masks.
Governor Doug Burgum, a first-term Republican looking to run for reelection, firmly opposes the mission, saying that while he advocates wearing masks, people should do so because “ personal responsibility ”.
During a visit to the state on Monday, Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, assisted the North Dakotans after a private meeting with governors and business leaders.
“For the past 24 hours, when we’ve been here and we’ve been in your grocery store, restaurant and frankly even in your hotel, this is the least use of masks. we have seen retail outlets wherever we go, ”she told reporters, according to The Bismarck Tribune.
And this week in Texas, a court prosecution broke out over Governor Greg Abbott’s statewide masking order, which included waivers for the polling stations. On Tuesday, a Federal Court judge declared the immunity invalid. On Wednesday, the Federal Court of Appeals suspended that order, issuing a temporary residence order to give the court time to review the appeal.
Some public health experts are concerned that Mr Trump – who frequently mocked Mr. Biden for wearing masks and their aides often dropped them even as the White House became hot spots for his own coronavirus. – poisoned discussion around the mask that wearing them would always be interpreted as a political statement. “This is the biggest challenge facing an upcoming administration – let’s say there is a new administration,” said Dr. Leana Wen, former medical commissioner for Baltimore.
Experts are emerging ideas on how to change norms. Major retailers such as Walmart and Target have asked for the mask in their stores. Representative Donna E. Shalala, Florida’s Democrat, who served as President Bill Clinton’s health secretary, said she would invite other business leaders to join.
She also suggested that insurance executives might be persuaded to adjust their policies to require businesses to force customers and employees to wear masks in order to get coverage.
“You simply ask for it to get what you must have,” she said. “That’s how we chase cigarettes out of buildings.”
Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the federal government could write “a model policy that states and cities can follow.”
Dr. Helen Burstin, executive director of the Council of Medical Associations, says that there is a lot of precedent for the federal government to impose restrictions, or create financial “sweeteners” for states. To do so, when public health is at stake.
In a 2005 transportation bill, Congress allocated $ 500 million to states that make it a crime to not wear a driver’s seat belt. Today, seat belts are required in the front seats of cars in every state except New Hampshire.
In 1974, Congress imposed a highway speed limit of 55 miles per hour, effectively seizing a state responsibility.
Dr. Gottlieb wrote in an article published in The Wall Street Journal on Monday that: “There is an assumption that a masked mission would have to be fined and cause fights with the agency. law enforcement.
However, he added, it doesn’t have to be that way: “There are a lot of things we do because the community expects civil acts: No shoes, no service. Clean up after your dog. Many of these are even codified in city ordinances.
There is some evidence that the standards are changing. Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey, is currently propaganda about masking – a lesson he takes from his own showdown with Covid-19, which he believes he has signed. at a White House Rose Garden ceremony for then-judges. Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court, or in the preparation of a debate with the president.
In a recent article in the Journal, he gave some advice to his readers: “Wear it or you may regret it – like I did”.