Dr. Anthony Fauci, a White House coronavirus task force member and the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases, says it’s only natural that there’s “a bit of pushback on authority” when it comes to masks and facial coverings recommended by public health officials amid the pandemic.
It’s in “the American spirit,” Fauci told NPR on Tuesday morning, “not wanting to be told what to do.”
Fauci said a national mask mandate wasn’t the way to go, because it would be too challenging to enforce. He said he trusted Americans to trust the data, and said he expected the percentage of people wearing masks — NPR reported that it was about 40% — to soon rise.
“The data and evidence that this can be very helpful as part of a multifaceted way to get these cases down and to diminish the transmissibility and acquisition is very clear,” Fauci told NPR. “So we just have to try to get a crisp, clear message to people that this is an important tool.”
Asked about the mixed messages from the Trump administration on masks, Fauci said he was “very pleased” President Donald Trump wore a mask in public for the first time, during a recent visit to The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, after months of pressure and criticism.
Fauci also noted Trump’s tweet on Monday afternoon, which included a photo of the masked commander in chief. The president declared, “many people say that it is patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance. There is nobody more patriotic than me, your favorite president!”
Fauci’s comments came a day after U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, in a Fox News interview, urged Americans to dispense with any notion that health officials’ recommendations to wear masks amounted to a threat to the republic.
“I’m pleading with your viewers, I’m begging you, please understand that we are not trying to take away your freedoms when we say wear a face covering,” Adams told the hosts of Fox & Friends. “This administration really fights to protect our freedoms, but we want people to know freedom comes with responsibility, and part of that responsibility means wearing a face covering when you go out, washing your hands and trying to watch your distance around other people.”
Anti-mask rallies — including some in which protesters wore masks — have sprung up at statehouses across the country and globe, with hundreds of people gathering to assert that doctors are wrong, that COVID-19 data is manipulated as part of a grand conspiracy, that COVID-19 is linked to 5G technology, and that federal, state and local governments and businesses implementing requirements on masks and social distancing are infringing on Constitutional freedoms.
Studies around the globe have shown that when large portions of populations wear cloth masks, let alone surgical masks and N-95 masks, it can have a profound effect on limiting the spread of the coronavirus, NPR reported.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association asserting that “cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used universally within communities. There is increasing evidence that cloth face coverings help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others.”
A recent model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington forecasts the total number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. will reach 224,000 by Nov. 1.
“That increase in our forecasts is being driven by the big upsurge in you know the ones we know about in Florida, Texas, Arizona, California,” IHME chair Dr. Chris Murray told CNN. “There’s a longer list of states where deaths are going up, as well as hospitalizations. So, that includes Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah.”
Murray and other public health experts have estimated that if most Americans wore masks, it could save tens of thousands of lives by November, because masks decrease the risk of transmission by about 65%.
Fauci noted wearing a mask wasn’t “the only thing” Americans can do to curb the spread of the virus, but called it “an important component.”
Fauci said physically distancing from others, closing bars, reducing the number of people in restaurants and public spaces are all key ways to slow the spread of the virus. All were part of Trump administration and state advisories earlier this year. But several states, particularly in the South and West, are seeing spikes even as much of the country reopens in phases.
More than 3.8 million Americans have contracted coronavirus and more than 140,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
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