- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 1, 2020

Russia loomed over the U.S. elections four years ago, but here’s a 2020 twist no one saw coming: Vladimir Putin and Joseph R. Biden both want everyone in their vast nations to mask up in public.

Mr. Putin issued a mandate requiring masks on public transportation and other public spaces last week, as the coronavirus spreads across his country and Europe.

Mr. Biden, the Democratic nominee, is pushing for a similar move in the U.S., calling for a “nationwide mandate” that amounts to a face-covering requirement on federal property and interstate transportation and a plea for every governor to issue a mask mandate.

If governors won’t do it, Mr. Biden plans to lean on mayors, hoping to make mask-wearing a social norm from coast to coast.

The push is winning support from public health experts — including Dr. Anthony Fauci — who say people need to buckle down as the coronavirus permeates the country and swamps Europe.



The U.S. is seeing record numbers of daily cases, but it’s not just from increased testing — hospital visits are peaking in more than a dozen states.

Unlike his Democratic foe, President Trump says he wants Americans to make their own choices as they navigate the pandemic. He’s presiding over campaign crowds with sporadic mask use and ridiculing California for its strict rules.

“You cannot, under any circumstances, take it off. You have to eat through the mask,” Mr. Trump told Arizona supporters at a recent campaign rally.

Health experts say masks are a simple but effective tool in blocking infectious droplets, especially if someone is infected and doesn’t know it as they talk, cough or sneeze in public. Even if a mask-wearer does become infected, some scientists say a face covering may reduce the amount of virus they’re exposed to, giving them a better chance of having a mild case.

Mr. Biden initially pitched a sweeping federal mandate ahead of the Democratic National Convention in August.

But the effort ran into immediate questions — vice-presidential pick Kamala D. Harris said no one would be punished for violating the mandate, dubbing it a federal “standard,” while Mr. Biden said he believed he had the legal power to enact one but couldn’t guarantee it.

“It isn’t clear that the executive branch has such broad authority,” said Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law. “If you’re on federal property, you can probably do that — if you’re on an airplane or on Amtrak.”

Thirty-three states, plus the District of Columbia, have mask orders in place, according to AARP.

The mandates differ but generally apply to indoor public spaces such as stores and restaurants or public transportation and offer exceptions for people with disabilities or specific circumstances, such as exercising or eating.

There are gaps in mask use, however, including in states that have seen a spike in cases and deaths in recent weeks.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican, has pleaded with residents to mask up but will not mandate it. His state has one of the highest seven-day averages of new cases per 100,000 residents in the country.

Mr. Biden’s authority to twist governors’ arms would only extend so far, according to experts.

For instance, it would be difficult for his administration to threaten state or localities with a loss of funding for refusing to institute a mask mandate, according to Mr. Blackman. A federal appeals court this year ruled against Mr. Trump’s push to withhold federal funds from “sanctuary cities” that don’t cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.

Heavy-handed efforts to induce mask-wearing might backfire, hardening the resistance of people who see government pandemic rules as overreach.

Mr. Trump officially recommends mask-wearing in cases where people cannot socially distance. But he hasn’t promoted their use and questioned whether servers are spreading germs by fiddling with their masks while serving food.

Mr. Trump appeared shocked to see Fox News personality Laura Ingraham wearing a mask at his Michigan rally on Friday.

“Are you wearing a mask?” Mr. Trump called out incredulously to Ms. Ingraham, who was standing below the stage in the crowd. “I can’t recognize you. Is that a mask? I’ve never seen her in a mask. Look at you. Whoa! Whoa!”

Mr. Trump told the crowd, “She’s being very politically correct.”

• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

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