The White House rejected a plan from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to mandate face masks on commercial and public transportation, according to a Friday report from the New York Times citing two officials, in what appears to be another instance of the administration overruling the experts at the key public health agency during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Using its “quarantine powers,” the CDC crafted a plan to make face coverings compulsory on forms of transportation like buses, trains and airplanes, according to the Times, and had the support of Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.
However, the White House’s coronavirus task force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, rejected the plan, refusing to even deliberate on it, according to the Times.
The White House has increasingly butted heads with the CDC in the past month, with Trump publicly criticizing comments by CDC Director Robert Redfield on how long it will take to field a coronavirus vaccine and the efficacy of wearing a mask.
It’s also far from the first time the White House has been accused of meddling with the federal government’s health agencies, such as the controversial publication and subsequent removal of CDC guidelines that discouraged asymptomatic people exposed to the coronavirus from getting tested, which reportedly came from the administration.
Like the country’s testing fragmented testing protocol, commercial and public transportation has operated under a mish-mash of different policies, hitting transit workers themselves especially hard with around 100 deaths by April 20, according to the Guardian.
The Department of Transportation on Sunday rejected a petition from transit labor unions requesting a mask requirement for passengers on public transportation.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who said he would encourage state and local leaders to institute a mask mandate if elected in November, reacted to the report Friday night. “I just read the CDC was going to require masks on public transportation. Forty-thousand people a day are coming down with coronavirus. And the White House blocked it. What is the matter with this guy?”
The Trump administration’s muddled messaging around face masks have made them a political issue with people, to the dismay of public health experts like coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci. “I have been on the airways, on the radio, on TV, begging people to wear masks,” Fauci said last week in an interview with ABC News. The influential Covid-19 model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington currently predicts 363,269 deaths by January 1, but that figure drops to 278,526 with universal mask use.
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