Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday October 31, 2020
Biden’s Call for ‘National Mask Mandate’ Gains Traction in Public Health Circles
As the nation heads into what public health experts are calling a “dark winter” of coronavirus illness and death, public health experts are coalescing around Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s call for a “national mask mandate,” even as they concede such an effort would require much more than the stroke of a presidential pen.
Over the past week, a string of prominent public health experts — notably Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease specialist, and Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under President Trump — have said it is time to seriously consider a national mandate to curb the spread of the virus.
Overseas this week, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia became the latest foreign leader to impose a national mandate for citizens to wear masks. Mr. Trump is opposed to a mandate, and Mr. Biden has conceded that a presidential order for all Americans to wear masks would almost certainly face — and most likely fall to — a legal challenge.
Mr. Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, echoed the “dark winter” language during the most recent presidential debate, and he is already using his bully pulpit to promote and reinforce a culture of mask wearing. If elected, he will almost certainly do more.
Mr. Biden has already said that, as president, he would mandate masks on all federal property, an executive order that could have wide reach. He could use his authority under federal transit law to require masks on public transportation. He could also prod governors who are resisting mask mandates to at least require masks in public buildings in their states.
But that is delicate terrain in the United States, where Mr. Trump has turned the act of wearing or not wearing a mask into a political statement. Public health and legal experts say it would be far better for Mr. Biden — or Mr. Trump, for that matter — to use his powers of persuasion to convince Americans that covering one’s face to curb the spread of the virus is a patriotic or civic-minded action.
“Instead of making it about the president’s coercive authority under law it should be about whether the president can support a norm that supports public health, which is in people’s self interest,” said Harold Hongju Koh, a law professor at Yale University and an expert in national security and human rights.
Mr. Trump, however, has shown little interest in supporting such norms. At a rally on Wednesday in Arizona, he mocked California’s mask mandate, saying, “You have to eat through the mask.” (New York Times)