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Fauci voices support for national mask mandate

CDC "strongly recommends" masks on mass transit
CDC "strongly recommends" wearing masks on public transportation 01:50

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has recently voiced support for a national mask mandate. In interviews, Fauci has said that masks are effective, and that Americans should do basic things like wear masks if they don't want to shut down. 

When pushed by CNBC's Shepard Smith on Wednesday about whether or not we need a national mask mandate, Fauci said, "We do."

"If we don't get one, then I would hope that the governors and the mayors do it locally, if it's not done nationally," Fauci said during the televised interview.

Smith again pressed Fauci, asking: "Are you still in the president's ear, or no? And if not, who is?" 

Fauci said he hasn't "spoken to the president in quite a while about the situation with regard to the outbreak." 

"But I can tell you right now, regardless of that, what we do need is adherence to – mandate or not – if mandate is needed, let's do a [mask] mandate," Fauci continued, before Smith interrupted him to say: "You're the one who decides what's needed, Dr. Fauci." 

"It's pretty urgent, doc," Smith said.

"No, it is very urgent. And that's the reason why I have been urgently saying every day that we have got to do things that have not been done uniformly and consistently throughout the country," Fauci said. 

"This is gonna get worse, because we're going more into a colder season, as we get through the fall and into the winter. With the holiday season going, we've got to do something different. We can't just let this happen," Fauci continued, adding that we will have "many more" hospitalizations, which will inevitably lead to more deaths. 

"You're using the word 'mandating masks.' Yes, if that works, let's do it. I don't think it's gonna happen nationally," he said. 

When asked why it won't happen nationally, Fauci said: "It may not come from the White House to do it and if it doesn't, then I think that the mayors and the governors should do it."

Smith pointed out that other countries, including Russia, have masks mandates. 

In another interview with JAMA Network, live-streamed on YouTube on Wednesday, Fauci also expressed support for a mask mandate. Howard Bauchner, editor and chief of JAMA, said Fauci has recently become more outspoken about a national mask mandate. "Do we really need to get masking to 90-95% of the population?" Bauchnar asked.

"I think we do," Fauci said. He and his colleagues recently published a paper in JAMA titled, Preventing the Spread of SARS-CoV-2 With Masks and Other "Low-tech" Interventions.

In his interview with Bauchner, Fauci said looking at what other countries and some areas of the U.S. have done shows that masking – along with keeping distance and avoiding crowds – makes a difference. 

"We don't want to shut down completely. That's almost radioactive now when you say that, because of the situation of not wanting to hurt the economy. Well, if you don't want to shut down, at least do the fundamental basic things... the flagship of which is wearing a mask," Fauci said. 

Fauci added that we can't have inconsistent mask wearing, which we see now in some states. "It almost becomes a political statement," he said. "We've got to get away from that." 

Fauci's guidance on masks has evolved over the course of the pandemic. In March, before states shut down, Fauci told 60 Minutes: "There's no reason to be walking around with a mask."

He said at the time that masks do not provide the level of protection people think they do. People who wear masks also tend to touch their face more often to adjust them, which can spread germs from their hands. The price of face masks was also surging and Prestige Ameritech, the nation's largest surgical mask manufacturer, was struggling to keep up with the increased demand. "It could lead to a shortage of masks for the people who really need it," Fauci said.

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both said in March that healthy people should only wear masks when taking care of those who are sick or suspected of having the virus. 

About a month after Fauci's 60 Minutes interview, President Trump announced that the CDC started recommended Americans wear a "basic cloth or fabric mask" in public.

WHO also recommends wearing a face mask as a preventative measure, along with other precautions like physical distancing, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning your hands and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue.

Many states cities, like New York City, began adopting masks mandates earlier this year, requiring people to wear them in public when social distancing was not possible. The CDC has put together a guide on how and when to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In an interview several weeks ago with CBS News' Steven Portnoy, Fauci was asked about the efficacy of masks. Portnoy observed that until recently, most of the president's aides had not worn masks, and he asked what people can learn about the efficacy of that strategy in preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

"I think the — the data speaks for themselves," Fauci said of mask-wearing. "We had a super-spreader event in the White House and it was in a situation where people were crowded together and were not wearing masks. So the data speak for themselves."

He was referring to the nomination ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett in later September. After that, multiple people in President Trump's orbit tested positive for COVID-19, as did the president. 

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