A growing cadre of public health experts is 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 food and drugs under President Trump — have said that it is time to seriously consider a national mandate to curb the spread of the virus.
Overseas, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia this week became the latest foreign leader to impose a national mandate for citizens to wear masks. Mr. Trump is opposed to a mandate, and has been known to mock mask wearing. Mr. Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, favors masks but has conceded that a presidential order for all Americans to wear masks would almost certainly face — and likely fall to — a legal challenge.
Mr. Biden has said that, as president, he would require 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.
Mr. Trump has turned the act of wearing a mask — or not wearing one — 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 the bully pulpit to convince Americans that covering one’s face to protect against disease is a patriotic or civic-minded action.
Experts say the scientific evidence is growing that face masks can considerably reduce the transmission of respiratory viruses like the one that causes Covid-19.
As of last week, 33 states and the District of Columbia required mask-wearing in public, according to a list compiled by AARP. But in certain parts of the country, especially heavily Republican states, resistance is deep — even when cases are soaring.
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