Spotlight: Mask-wearing remains divisive in U.S. amid soaring COVID-19 cases

Xinhua News Agency | Jul 1, 2020 at 3:46 AM

WASHINGTON, June 30 (Xinhua) -- Mask-wearing, which public health experts say is among the most effective means of curbing the spread of COVID-19, remains divisive among Americans though the coronavirus keeps spreading in the country at an alarming rate.

"We are now having 40-plus thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around. And so I am very concerned," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at the Senate health committee on Tuesday.

The outbreaks in various parts of the country put "the entire country at risk" and "clearly we don't have this under control," Fauci said.

"Masks are extremely important," Fauci said. "It's people protecting each other. Anything that furthers the use of masks, whether it's giving out free masks or any other mechanism, I am thoroughly in favor of."

Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also made a similar plea, especially to younger Americans, at the hearing.

It is "critical" that Americans "take the personal responsibility to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and embrace the universal use of face coverings," said Redfield.

Over 2.6 million COVID-19 cases have been reported in the United States with the fatalities surpassing 126,000 as of Tuesday afternoon, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

Fifteen states reported recording their highest seven-day averages of cases on Monday, according to JHU data. Ten of them -- Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Montana, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming -- have no statewide mask requirements, according to a CNN report.

On April 3, the CDC made a recommendation that citizens should wear "non-medical, cloth masks" to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in public places.

But the public-health advice has in some instances devolved into a debate about whether the requirement is an infringement upon personal rights.

Recently, a video of one woman from Palm Beach County, Florida, went viral on Twitter in which she accused politicians and doctors of being part of the "Deep State" and said anyone who went against the freedom of choice and wore a mask would be subject to a citizen's arrest.

In the absence of a federal order, whether state, city governments and businesses should mandate mask usage has become a divisive political issue.

According to a CBS News poll released on Sunday, 59 percent of Republican respondents said they think it's a personal choice to wear a mask in public, while 76 percent of Democrats said it's a public responsibility.

Democratic leaders have been more vocal about the importance of face masks while many top White House officials and Republicans have repeatedly refused to follow the practice.

In a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said there should be federal guidance "that everyone needs to wear a mask in public, period. Period."

"Wear a mask. It's not just about you. It's about your family. It's about your neighbors. It's about your colleagues. It's about keeping other people safe," Biden said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday a federal mandate to wear masks in public was "long overdue" and faulted President Donald Trump for not setting an example by wearing one in public himself.

With new coronavirus cases skyrocketing recently in several states in the south and southwest, a growing number of Republican leaders advocated the use of face masks in public, including Vice President Mike Pence, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The White House was trying to defer to governors and other local officials on mask wearing, said Pence on CBS News on Sunday.

"We must have no stigma, none, about wearing masks when we leave our homes and come near other people," McConnell said from the Senate floor on Monday.

About 18 states have implemented statewide rules of varying strictness, forcing citizens to put on a mask in public, showed the data compiled by Masks4All, a volunteer organization that advocates the wearing of face coverings amid the pandemic.

Among them, California, Nevada, North Carolina and Washington did not mandate mask-wearing until late this month when they saw COVID-19 cases soaring in their states.

On Monday, the governors of Oregon and Kansas also announced that they will mandate face coverings for state residents, effective respectively on Wednesday and Friday.

In some states, including the new COVID-19 hot spots Florida and Texas, that do not have mask requirements, some cities and counties there have introduced their own measures regarding face coverings.

Jacksonville, Florida, host of the Republican National Convention in August, imposed a requirement on Monday that people wear masks indoors. Texas Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Tuesday extended the mask order until Aug. 26. The order requires businesses to mandate that customers and employees wear a face covering or mask.

A federal face mask mandate would not only cut the daily growth rate of new confirmed cases of COVID-19, but could also save the U.S. economy from taking a 5-percent GDP hit in lieu of additional lockdowns, according to financial services company Goldman Sachs, reported CNBC on Tuesday.