Biden urges mandatory face-mask order for next three months in effort to save 40,000 lives

Bart Jansen

Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, urged Thursday to wear face masks while outdoors during the next three months in an effort to save 40,000 lives from the COVID-19 pandemic during that period.

Biden and Harris, D-Calif., called on governors to issue mandatory mask orders after receiving a briefing from health officials including: Dr. David Kessler, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; Dr. Nicki Lurie, former assistant secretary of Health; and Dr. Vivek Murthy, a former U.S. surgeon general.

“Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months at a minimum," Biden said. “Wearing a mask is going to get our kids back to school sooner and safer."

President Donald Trump at a news conference later Thursday accused Biden of politicizing the pandemic while showing “his appalling lack of respect for the American people.” Trump said the administration would continue to recommend wearing masks and encourage social distancing, but leave decisions on mandates to governors.

“But we do not need to bring the full weight of the federal government on law-abiding Americans to have this goal,” Trump said. “Americans must have their freedoms and I trust the American people and their governors very much.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has become a central issue in the presidential campaign with more than 166,000 deaths and 5.2 million cases nationwide. Unemployment spiked at 14.7% in April and 16 million people remain out of work because of lockdowns to prevent the virus from spreading.

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Biden said when confronted by people who are unwilling or skeptical of wearing a mask because it's uncomfortable, he tells them they should do it to protect others.

“It’s not about your rights, it’s about your responsibilities," Biden said he tells reluctant people. "This is America. Be a patriot. Protect your fellow citizens. Do the right thing."

Trump also said wearing masks is patriotic, even as he questioned their efficacy.

“Maybe they’re great. Maybe they’re just good. Maybe they’re not so good,” Trump said. “But frankly, what do you have to lose?”

Harris said Biden also proposes to distribute tens of millions of testing kits nationwide, hiring 100,000 workers to trace the contacts of people who become infected and $25 billion to support manufacturing and distribution of an eventual vaccine for the virus. She urged voters to ask President Donald Trump's administration when they would receive a vaccination.

"That’s what real leadership looks like," Harris said of Biden's recommendation.

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The pair left the Wilmington, Del., hotel where the briefing took place without taking questions from the media.

Trump has touted that the U.S. has conducted the most tests worldwide and ensured ventilators were provided to anyone who needed them. He has touted therapeutic drugs and suggests a vaccine will be available soon. And the president has said the robust economy of last year would return next year, after treatments are available.

But Biden has blasted Trump for mismanagement that resulted in more suffering than necessary, including tens of thousands more lives lost, millions more jobs ended and millions of children at risk as schools reopen. Harris said Trump squandered a healthy economy inherited from the Obama and Biden administration.

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As the administration and Congress debate additional spending to cope with the virus, Biden has proposed trillions in new spending on infrastructure, clean energy and caregivers.

Some 34 states have mandatory mask orders, according to AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans.

Marc Perrone, president of United Food and Commercial Workers, a union representing 1.3 million workers in grocery stores, meatpacking plants and other front-line industries, said governors should pull their heads out of the sand and order mask mandates.

“In every grocery store in America, frontline workers are continuing to put themselves in harm’s way,” Perrone said. “Without immediate action, these brave workers will continue to get sick and die.”

But mask orders have become political lightning rods across the country. Trump has begun wearing a mask while touring facilities with local dignitaries, but has kept federal guidelines for mask-wearing as recommendations rather than orders.

In Georgia, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and a dozen other local jurisdictions ordered people to wear masks in public places. But Gov. Brian Kemp fought the orders in court, arguing that city officials don’t have the authority to impose stricter orders than the state. He said Thursday he would drop the lawsuit.

In Florida, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods told his employees they will not wear masks at work and visitors can’t wear masks in his offices.