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Oct. 26, 2020, 11:07 a.m. EDT

Fauci and Biden advocate a federal mask mandate, as new COVID-19 infections surge

Anthony Fauci said Friday: ‘If people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating’

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By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch


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Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, now appears to back a nationwide face-mask mandate.

Dr. Anthony Fauci wants all Americans to wear a mask and now favors a mask mandate in order to make that happen.

The doctor’s comments came just one day before Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday. The news raised further concerns among health professionals about the mask-wearing procedures within the Trump administration.

As Fauci, a physician and immunologist and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for the last three decades, told Erin Burnett on CNN’s “OutFront” on Friday evening: “If people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating."

“There’s going to be a difficulty enforcing it, but if everyone agrees that this is something that’s important, and they mandate it and everybody pulls together and says, you know, we’re going to mandate it but let’s just do it, I think that would be a great idea,” he said .

‘Whenever we public health officials talk about implementing public-health measures, people think that we want to shut the country down. We don’t want to do that.’

Dr. Anthony Fauci

Previously, Fauci has generally stopped short of saying that the American people should be required to wear masks under a mandate, but the recent spike in cases and surveys showing that people are still not wearing masks in public places appear to have shifted his stance on the issue.

As of Monday, COVID-19 had infected nearly 43.2 million people worldwide, which for the most part does not account for asymptomatic cases, and killed 1.1 million people. The U.S. still has the world’s highest number of cases and deaths (over 8.6 million and 225,247, respectively), Johns Hopkins University reported.

On Sunday, the U.S. recorded more than 60,000 new cases. The U.S. hit a new record of 83,757 new infections in a 24-hour period on Friday, according to the COVID-19 Dashboard maintained by Johns Hopkins, just 39 cases more than Saturday. Hospitalizations have also surged, hitting the Midwest and Mountain West particularly hard.

Speaking in Wilmington, Del., on Friday, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said, “First, I’ll go to every governor and urge them to mandate mask wearing in their states, and, if they refuse, I’ll go to the mayors and county executives and get local mask requirements in place nationwide.”

Related: U.S. sets coronavirus infection record; deaths near 224,000


CNN
Anthony Fauci told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Friday that he is now predisposed to a mask mandate, a view echoed by the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. President Trump has declined to advocate for such a mandate.

The Trump administration has taken a mixed stance on masks. Last Sunday, Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR +2.65%  blocked a post by Dr. Scott Atlas, who has reportedly emerged as a pivotal adviser on the pandemic to President Donald Trump, after he claimed face masks were ineffective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

“Masks work? NO,” Atlas tweeted, followed by a thread of posts that misrepresented scientific findings on masks, which have shown broad agreement that they help to stop the spread of the disease, and are also an essential part of personal protective equipment for frontline workers.

Some 85% of adults say they wear a mask most or all of the time, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

The comments by Atlas, a Stanford radiologist with no background in infectious diseases, contradicts guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and Fauci.

Earlier this month, Fauci said that vulnerable people should think about wearing a mask at home if they’re around people who have had contact with others, and advised people to avoid crowds, congregating indoors and suggested frequent washing of hands.

“Whenever we public-health officials talk about implementing public-health measures people think that we want to shut the country down,” he said. “We don’t want to do that. What we want to do is use public-health measures in a prudent, careful way to help us to reopen the country.”

He also said that voting in person on Nov. 3 is just as safe as going to Starbucks, assuming other people wear masks. “I think it’s just as safe to go and get a cup of coffee in a Starbucks /zigman2/quotes/207508890/composite SBUX -0.10%   in which everyone’s wearing a mask and doing the things they should be doing.”

“You can’t enter into the cool months of the fall, and the cold months of the winter with a high community-infection baseline,” he said. People will spend more time indoors, Fauci added. “That’s when you have to be particularly careful about the spread of respiratory-borne disease.”

Related: CDC says big Thanksgiving gatherings are a high-risk activity. Here’s how to safely visit family this holiday season

Fauci is not the only public-health professional who is concerned about a “twindemic” of influenza and coronavirus during the winter months, which potentially makes it more difficult to distinguish symptoms caused by the respective viruses, and overwhelming hospitals.

Some 93% of U.S. adults say they wear a mask sometimes, often or always, according to a HealthDay/Harris Poll survey conducted in October, versus 90% in August. In the same poll, 72% of adults said they always wear a mask, compared with 62% in August.

However, more Democrats (82% in October versus 69% in August) than Republicans (66% versus 53% in August) said they wear a mask. Those percentages are higher among older people, and women are more likely to wear a mask than younger people and men.

AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN -1.81% ; BioNTech SE /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX +3.03% and partner Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE -0.19% ; Johnson & Johnson /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ -0.13% ; Merck & Co. ID:MERK -1.22% ; Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +10.78% ; Sanofi /zigman2/quotes/202859081/composite SAN -0.68% ; and GlaxoSmithKline /zigman2/quotes/209463850/composite GSK +0.38% are among those working on vaccines.

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Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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