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Mask debate intensifies in US

By ZHAO HUANXIN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-06-30 11:14
A "Phantom of the Opera" sign asks people to wear a mask in public, as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues, in the Manhattan borough of New York, US, June 29, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Calls for wearing masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 got louder in the US on Monday as more Republicans and state officials advocated for face coverings. In the same vein, a Democratic governor called on President Donald Trump to lead by example and mandate mask wearing with an executive order.

"We must have no stigma — none — about wearing masks when we leave our homes,"said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday. "Wearing simple face coverings is not about protecting ourselves. It is about protecting everyone we encounter."

The Kentucky Republican's remarks came as the American public is divided over masks, even though the country's health authorities have recommended the use of facial coverings for months and practice in other countries have proven —and US researchers have confirmed —that masks save lives.

But the US, with a COVID-19 death toll surging past 125,900 as of Monday, has seen flares in outbreaks and a spike in infections in recent weeks, partly fueled by people flouting public health guidelines calling for social distancing and wearing masks in states that pushed for early reopenings of their economies.

Another high-ranking Republican, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, also said Monday that individuals have the responsibility to follow recommendations to help stop the spread of the virus.

"The governors have a big responsibility here, but every American has a responsibility. They should wear a mask,"said the top Republican in the House of Representatives. 

"If you cannot social distance, you need to be wearing a mask, and you need to be respectful to one another," McCarthy told CNBC.

Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina also tweeted Monday that he encouraged everyone to wear a mask. 

"COVID-19 can be transmitted quickly and easily—even by people who aren't experiencing symptoms. Next time you go out of your home, be courteous to your neighbor: wear a mask," Scott retweeted, amplifying a post by his state's public health agency.

US Vice-President Mike Pence, who was pictured donning a mask Sunday during a trip to Dallas, also endorsed face coverings.

"For anyone, if you can't maintain social distancing ...it's just a good idea to wear a mask," Pence said.

At least two governors announced Monday that their states would make facial covering mandatory to help rein in spread of COVID-19.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly said that she will sign an executive order that will go into effect Friday requiring state residents to wear a mask in stores and shops and in any place where social distancing of 6 feet (1.83 m) cannot be maintained, including outside.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown also announced that state residents would be required to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces starting Wednesday.

In another development  Monday, Jacksonville, the Florida city where Republicans are due to hold their national convention in August, declared face masks mandatory.

"At 5 pm today, the city of Jacksonville will be adopting a mandatory mask requirement for public and indoor locations, and in other situations where individuals cannot socially distance," the city government said in a statement.

Florida reported 5,266 new infections and 28 new deaths due to COVID-19 on Monday, according to the state health authorities.

While Jacksonville is preparing for Trump's big event, the Republican president has so far been averse to wear a mask in public, a stance that has been imitated by some of his fervent fans but which has also been criticized for failing to convey the seriousness of the pandemic in the US.

Earlier this month, the Republican National Convention changed its location from an arena in Charlotte, North Carolina, because officials in that state insisted on face masks and social distancing, against the wishes of President Trump. 

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the White House should make Americans realize how real a threat COVID-19 is and the president himself should "lead by example" and put a mask on.

"The president doesn't have to pass a piece of legislation, doesn't have to call the Congress — just sign an executive order saying wear a mask," Cuomo said at a media briefing.

Cuomo's state again received donations of face masks from China on Monday. The Chinese Consulate General in New York donated 5,000 masks to the Jermaine L. Green STEM Institute of Queens, a primary school with some 500 students, many of whom are from minority groups. 

"As a diplomat living in New York, I feel this is my privilege and also an obligation to join hands with everybody here to fight this pandemic, shoulder by shoulder," said Chinese Consul General in New York Huang Ping at a virtual handover ceremony.

Last week, a University of Washington health institute projected that there would be 33,000 fewer deaths from COVID-19 by October if 95 percent of Americans wore masks now.

In its first projections comparing different actions to control COVID-19 transmission, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecast nearly 180,000 in the US will die by Oct 1. 

"There is no doubt that even as states open up, the United States is still grappling with a large epidemic on a course to increase beginning in late August and intensifying in September," IHME Director Dr Christopher Murray said in a release. 

"People need to know that wearing masks can reduce transmission of the virus by as much as 50 percent, and those who refuse are putting their lives, their families, their friends, and their communities at risk," said Murray.

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