Vice President Mike Pence deflected a question Sunday about any federal mandate requiring Americans to wear masks amid reports of large increases in COVID-19 infections in certain states, saying the White House wants to “defer to the governors.” to order or not people to cover their faces in public.
“One of the elements of America’s genius is the principle of federalism, of state and local control,” Pence said on CBS ‘”Face the Nation” on Sunday. “We have made it clear that we want to defer governors. We want to defer local officials, and people should listen to them. “
Guest host John Dickerson questioned Pence about the positions and argued that “the virus does not know federalism” and that the pandemic is “a problem that requires a coordinated national outcome, which is what these outbreaks show.”
“If we had taken that approach, we would never have had the success that we had in the New York City metro area,” Pence replied. “We would never have been successful in Michigan or New Orleans because, from the beginning, we worked closely with the governors to make sure they had what they needed when they needed it, tailored to the unique circumstances of their states.” “
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The debate over whether or not to wear masks, and whether they help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, has been raging since the early days of the pandemic in the United States, with many conservative experts arguing that they affect personal liberties and even weaken the immune system. However, the science behind masks, and staying inside, weakening the immune system is scant, and most public health officials say facial coatings are one of the key ways that people can help slow down. spread of contagion.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people wear cloth face covers in public places where other measures of social distancing are difficult to maintain. Some states and local communities require them.
At first, the government’s message without a mask was unequivocal. Because the first known COVID-19 infections were identified on US soil, top public health officials insisted that the masks should be reserved for front-line workers.
Later, the CDC issued its recommendation for fabric coverings in public settings where other measures of social distancing were difficult to maintain. But President Trump immediately undermines that guide by adamantly stating that he would not follow it.
He told The Wall Street Journal this month that some people wear masks simply to show that they disapprove of it.
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Now, the mask debate is heating up in the south and west, where infections are increasing to levels the country has not seen since April, when the Northeast and Midwest were particularly affected.
In Arizona, Florida and Texas, with Republican governors and huge spikes of infections, there have been doubts about requiring people to wear masks in public spaces.
But in California, Nevada, and North Carolina, with Democratic governors and increasing levels of infection, the rules requiring masks went into effect last week.
The split in masks is stark even within Republican belt states, where some Democratic mayors of big cities have imposed their own mask rules.
What further complicates the message is that when Trump questions the effectiveness of the masks and refuses to wear one in public, Surgeon General Jerome Adams has turned to Twitter to state that “I show my patriotism with a mask in public!”
The hesitation about face masks has baffled public health experts, as studies suggest the coatings could have a dramatic impact on limiting the death toll from the virus.
“I think the public health community has made it very clear that face masks can help reduce the spread of the virus,” said Ayaz Hyder, an epidemiologist at Ohio State University. “The problem is that you send mixed messages when the person at the top of the federal government says, ‘No, I’m fine.'”
The political calculations of the debate are unfolding across the country and are evident in public polls.
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While most other protection measures, such as social distancing, garner broad bipartisan support, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say they wear a mask when leaving home, 76 percent to 59 percent, according to a recent survey by The Associated Press-NORC Center for public affairs research.
In Texas, Republican Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order this month that prohibits municipalities from imposing fines or criminal penalties on people who refuse to wear masks. But he has not opposed efforts by some Texas cities and counties to require companies to impose mask rules on their employees.
On Friday, members of the White House coronavirus task force once again urged Americans to practice social distancing, frequent handwashing, and wearing face shields in public spaces.
But Pence sidestepped questions about whether the president’s refusal to wear a mask and his large campaign meetings sent mixed messages.
“Even in a health crisis, the American people do not lose our constitutional rights,” said Pence.
Associated Press contributed to this report.