More US states mandate masks to staunch coronavirus pandemic

ATLANTA (REUTERS) – More US state governors on Thursday (July 16) required residents to wear face-coverings in public, siding with the view that mask mandates are necessary to fight a worsening coronavirus pandemic rather than simply a matter of personal choice.

The Democratic governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, announced he was requiring most people to wear face coverings in public indoor spaces, such as stores and businesses.

The Republican governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, issued a similar statewide mandate, while Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, also a Republican, widened his earlier directive to include more people.

All three had resisted issuing such mandates but said the resurgence of the health crisis left them no choice.

“The number of Covid-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths are numbers that speaks for themselves and indicate that we need to do more,” Hutchinson told a news briefing.

Coronavirus cases have spiked across the American South and West since local officials started loosening economic and social restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

On Thursday, Florida reported a record increase in deaths, up 156.

The previous record was 133 on July 9.

Health experts say people should wear masks and adhere to social distancing as lockdowns ease. About half of the 50 US states have now put face-covering mandates in place.

Some were taking a different tack, however.

Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, issued an executive order late on Wednesday suspending local face-mask regulations while saying residents were “strongly encouraged” to wear them. He suggested an order mandating masks would be too restrictive.

Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who issued a mask mandate in his Georgia city on July 1, reacted swiftly.

“It is officially official. Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us. Every man and woman for himself/herself. Ignore the science and survive the best you can,” Johnson, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter.

In Atlanta, Georgia’s largest city, Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an order requiring masks on July 8.

Ethan Padgett, 37, a furloughed arts museum worker, said he believed the governor’s order was a “bad idea.”

“We need to wear masks to stop the spread. The mayor knows that,” he said, talking through his mask outside Joe’s Coffee in the East Atlanta Village neighbourhood.

“So many people aren’t following this day-to-day, but are taking their cues from our leaders. If the governor takes it more seriously, people will.”

But Pat Walker, 54, who was also wearing a mask, said the governor was just encouraging people to do the right thing.

“People should have a choice but choose wisely,” she said.

MASKS A POLITICAL ISSUE

US President Donald Trump has been at odds with the advice of his own health officials, wearing a mask in public only once.

Trump is seeking re-election in November but faces mounting criticism – and falling opinion poll numbers – over his handling of the pandemic, including from within his own party.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican who chairs the National Governors Association, slammed Trump’s coronavirus response in a Washington Post opinion piece. Hogan described how states scrambled to get help on testing, only to have Trump declare in April it was not the federal government’s problem.

“It was hopeless, waiting around for him. Governors were being told that we were on our own. It was sink or swim,” Hogan wrote.

New US cases are now averaging around 60,000 a day, with 30 of the 50 states reporting record increases in new cases this month. The total number has surpassed 3.5 million, by far the highest in the world, and more than 137,000 Americans have died.

Many states have had to roll back reopenings aimed at pumping up local economies crushed by the coronavirus shutdowns.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf late on Wednesday reimposed limits on restaurants, bars and social gatherings, noting “an unsettling climb” in new infections over the past week.

New York City, once the country’s epicentre, has been slower than others to reopen – by not lifting its ban on indoor service at bars and restaurants, for example – and continues to see results, Mayor Bill de Blasio told a briefing on Thursday.

Only 2 per cent of more than 40,000 city residents tested reported positive on Wednesday, he said, against a national average of 8.8 per cent, rising to over 20 per cent in some states.

Target and CVS Health on Thursday became the latest retailers to require that customers wear face coverings while shopping at their US stores.

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