October 24, 2020 -- Leading infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, MD, changed course on Friday, saying it may be time to impose a nationwide face mask rule.
Fauci has been urging Americans to wear face masks for months as a way to curb the coronavirus, but stopped short of saying a national mandate was necessary. President Trump has refused to impose a national rule about face masks and rarely wears a mask himself.
In an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett, Fauci said, "Well, if people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating it.”
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the leading U.S. authority on the pandemic, said such a rule would present big challenges.
"There's going to be a difficulty enforcing it, but if everyone agrees that this is something that's important and they mandate it and everybody pulls together and says, you know, we're going to mandate it but let's just do it. I think that would be a great idea to have everybody do it uniformly," he said.
Virtually all health experts say that face masks help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which is sweeping the nation and the world again. On Friday, more than 83,000 new coronavirus cases were reported in the United States -- a single-day record. There have been more than 8.4 million cases reported in the United States with more than 223,000 deaths, according to John Hopkins University.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington says that only 49% of Americans wore face masks in September, but higher usage would save many lives.
If that 49% rate of mask wearing continues and states keep lifting social distancing restrictions, IHME computer models show about 1 million Americans will die by the end of February, according to a study published in Nature . If states reimpose restrictions when daily deaths exceed 8 per 1 million people in the population and face mask usage remains at 49%, the number of deaths could reach 511,373 by the end of February, the study says.
However, if face mask use rose to 95%, along with the retention of restrictions in states, only about 381,798 people would die through February, IHME said.
Trump has said he’d leave face mask orders up to the governors. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have such rules.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said he would put a national face mask mandate in place if elected.
Fauci and other health experts predicted rising coronavirus numbers as cooler weather drives people inside. Fauci said the basic rules of life during the coronavirus still work: Wear a mask, wash your hands often, and practice social distancing.
"They sound very simple. But we're not uniformly doing that and that's one of the reasons we're seeing these surges," Fauci said.