Nine months into the coronavirus pandemic, 13 states have no statewide mask requirement. U.S. Sen. Edward Markey wants to change that.

The recently re-elected Massachusetts senator has teamed up with his colleague Connecticut U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal on the Encouraging Masks for All Act, which would provide financial incentives for states to tell their residents to mask up.

The legislation would provide an additional $5 billion to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund for states that implement mask requirements. It would also make $75 million in grants available for states to use to promote mask mandates and provide face coverings to those who need them.

“We are entering the winter months with what many are calling potentially the darkest time in the pandemic,” Markey said Friday, the day after Massachusetts blew past its previous record high for daily new coronavirus cases. “The vaccine is around the corner and that gives us hope. But hope is not health — we can ensure our health by wearing a mask.”

Markey said he is “fully supportive” of President-elect Joe Biden’s plan to ask Americans to mask up for 100 days after he takes office in January.

“But we should not wait until then to arm ourselves with this protection,” Markey said. “Thirteen states across our country still do not have mask mandates in place, and that’s dangerous.”

The Centers for Disease Control on Friday urged “universal face mask use” outside of people’s homes as COVID-19 cases surge across the country.

“Research suggests that universal mask mandates could save 100,000 lives in the coming months,” Markey said. “We owe that to our health care workers and essential employees who have been on the front lines of this crisis since day one, putting their health and safety at risk to make our society run. And we owe it to our flight attendants and airline employees.”

Markey and Blumenthal have long called on the Trump administration to require masks aboard planes. Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sara Nelson said in a virtual press conference with the senators Friday that flight attendants have been “assaulted in confrontations” over mask wearing by those who “refuse to comply” with airline requirements not backed by a federal mandate.

“These frontline workers are already endangering themselves by working on these kinds of transportation vehicles,” Blumenthal said. “They should not be put at greater risk from the users of these kinds of vehicles who may resist wearing them.”

The senators set no expiration date for their mask mandate, “because frankly we’re going to be in this pandemic for a while,” Blumenthal said. “Obviously our hope is at some point it would not be necessary — but we’re going to listen to the science.”


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