President-elect Joe Biden, in a sign of how his administration will take a more proactive approach to managing the pandemic, announced on Thursday that he will ask Americans to wear face masks for the first 100 days of his presidency in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Then on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control published a new guidance recommending “universal mask use” for Americans whenever they are outside their homes.
Biden, appearing Thursday on CNN with Kamala Harris for their first joint interview since winning the election, explained that he thought mass mask-wearing among Americans for a limited period of time would make a big difference in how the pandemic will transpire. “Just 100 days to mask, not forever,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “I think we’ll see a significant reduction if that occurs — with vaccinations and masking — to drive down the numbers considerably.”
It seems clear, however, that it would just be a widely publicized request — not a mask mandate, as Biden has previously discussed. Indeed, Biden may lack the authority to mandate mask-wearing nationwide to begin with; instead, he confirmed on CNN, he will mandate masks in all federal buildings and on interstate public transportation.
The president-elect also vowed that he would take a COVID-19 vaccine, with television cameras rolling, as soon as the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says “we have a vaccine, which is safe.” (Biden has asked Fauci to stay on in his role as the government’s top infectious-disease official, as well as be his chief medical adviser and a member of his coronavirus team).
On Friday, the CDC recommended for the first time that all Americans wear face masks anytime they leave their homes, warning in its weekly report that the U.S. has entered a “phase of high level transmission” with the onset of winter and the holiday season. The announcement has no legal force, but is still nonetheless an important signal to the public, as well as state and local authorities, about an essential way to slow the surge of COVID-19 cases around the country. “Compelling evidence now supports the benefits of cloth face masks for both source control (to protect others), and to a lesser extent, protection of the wearer,” the report summarized.
The CDC noted that wearing a mask was most important when people are indoors and cannot practice social distancing, and recommended that even at home, Americans should wear face masks if another household member either has COVID-19 or may have been exposed to it.
There is now abundant scientific evidence to back up the value of mask-wearing to blunt the spread of the coronavirus. Just this week, a new study out of Germany found that a mask mandate reduced the number of new COVID-19 infections by about 45 percent.