Sen. Elizabeth Warren urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use its authority to implement masks requirements in regions around the country amid surging cases of the coronavirus, asking the agency if it could step in amid spats over face coverings in states such as Georgia.
The Democrat from Massachusetts sent a letter to CDC Director Robert Redfield on Monday pointing to the agency’s broad authority to intervene should a state take insufficient steps to “prevent the spread” of a communicable disease.
“These authorities were delegated to the CDC to address significant public health threats that cross state and municipal borders and therefore cannot be controlled by a single state or community — such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Warren wrote in the letter. “Specifically, I would like you to provide me with information on whether the CDC has considered efforts to implement mask requirements, a limit on gatherings, and other measures that the CDC has recommended to stop the spread of the virus.”
The calls come amid surging cases of the virus in nearly every state in America. More than 3.9 million people have tested positive for COVID-19, and the U.S. reported more than 1,000 deaths in a day for the first time this month on Tuesday.
“Despite President Trump’s and Vice President Pence’s claims that concerns over a second wave of coronavirus infections are ‘overblown,’ that one day COVID-19 will just ‘disappear,’ and that ‘we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy,’ we are seeing a massive surge of COVID-19 cases in nearly 50 states and territories across the country,” Warren wrote.
Redfield has advocated for masks to be worn by all Americans this month. In an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association, he said he believed “if we can get everyone to wear masks right now, we can bring this under control within four, six, eight weeks.”
The statement, however, stood in contrast to the president’s own resistance toward face coverings throughout the pandemic. In May, Trump mocked former Vice President Joe Biden, his Democratic presidential rival, for wearing one and has suggested mask wearing was a political statement (he’s since said this week that masks are “patriotic”).
A growing number of states have required residents to wear masks while out in public, but several notable outbreak centers, including Florida and Arizona, have so far resisted calls to do so.
In Georgia, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp sued the Democratic mayor of Atlanta over her attempts to implement a mandatory mask policy, saying she overstepped her authority. Kemp has said he supports mask wearing but felt “confident that Georgians don’t need a mandate to do the right thing.”
Warren published a “must-do” list to fight the pandemic in The New York Times this week, including efforts to fund child care, provide federal money for hazard and sick pay, and expand the national eviction moratorium throughout the crisis. The senator pointed specifically to the stalemate in Georgia, asking Redfield if the CDC had considered intervening should Kemp’s resistance contravene the agency’s mandate.
“I would like to know whether the CDC will use its authorities to intervene in instances where state governors or other officials order the removal of restrictions or mask mandates,” she said. “Allowing orders of this kind, like Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s announcement last week, would seem to be in direct contradiction to the Department’s mandate.”
Clarification: Language at the top of the article has been amended for consistency, to indicate that Warren was referring to mask requirements, not a “ban.”
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