President-elect Joe Biden announced he’ll ask Americans to wear masks for 100 days as one of his first acts as president. A mask mandate like Biden’s masks plan is something that public health experts have been asking for over the past several months, and it signals that his approach to the COVID-19 pandemic will be starkly different from President Trump’s.
Masks are one of a few public health tools we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as SELF explained previously. The coronavirus spreads mainly through respiratory droplets that people who have the infection spread when they cough, talk, sneeze, or yell. Those droplets contain viral particles that can go on to infect other people if the droplets are inhaled or if they land in someone else’s mouth, nose, or eyes. Wearing a mask helps protect the wearer from inhaling the droplets and from spreading those droplets to others.
Biden said that he and V.P.-elect Kamala Harris will continue to set an example by wearing masks, but he also plans to ask the public to wear masks as well, according to a new interview with CNN. “Where the federal government has authority, I’m going to issue a standing order that in federal buildings you have to be masked,” he said, adding that masks would also be required during interstate transportation, like on planes or busses.
He then turned to his plans for the public: “My inclination is on the first day I’m inaugurated, I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask,” he said. “Just 100 days to mask, not forever. One hundred days. And I think we’ll see a significant reduction.”
Biden’s masks plan already has the support of the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “He’s saying, ‘Hey, folks, trust me. Everybody for 100 days.’ Now, it might be that after that, we still are going to need it. But he just wants it, everybody for a commitment for 100 days,” Dr. Fauci said on Today. “I discussed that with him, and I told him I thought that was a good idea.” (Biden also announced in the interview that he asked Dr. Fauci to serve as his chief medical advisor—and Dr. Fauci confirmed to Today that he accepted immediately.)
Other experts also recently called for a national mask mandate. “The inconvenience [of a temporary mask mandate] would allow the country to preserve health-care capacity and keep more schools and businesses open,” Scott Gottlieb, M.D., former commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), wrote in an op-ed in October. “Even if masks are only incrementally helpful, they are among the least economically costly and burdensome options for reducing spread.”
As Dr. Fauci noted, we may still need to keep wearing masks after the 100 days, depending on where the U.S. is with COVID-19 numbers and how the rollout of vaccines is going. The first doses of coronavirus vaccines may be available for certain high-risk and priority groups, including health care workers and people living in long-term care facilities, within the next few weeks. Then doses for other high-risk groups, such as those with underlying health conditions and essential workers, would continue over the next few months. Dr. Fauci predicted that all those who wanted a vaccine would likely be able to get one by about April of 2021.
But even with masks and vaccines becoming more and more available, we’ll still need to keep up the other public health behaviors—staying socially distanced, avoiding crowed, washing hands frequently—that we know will slow the spread of the virus.
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