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Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden says if elected, he will use the powers of the federal government to require all Americans to wear a mask in public, in spite of mounting evidence indicating that masks are essentially useless to stop the spread of COVID-19.
In an interview Thursday with CBS Pittsburgh affiliate KDKA, the former vice president said that he would “insist” on widespread mask-wearing and that he would use whatever Executive Branch authorities he could find to require it.
“The one thing we do know is these masks make a gigantic difference,” he said, as quoted by The Daily Beast. “I would insist that everybody out in public be wearing that mask. Anyone to reopen would have to make sure that they walked into a business that had masks.”
Biden then claimed that, as president, he would have the authority to mandate the public wearing of masks.
“From an executive standpoint, yes I would… I would do everything possible to make it required that people had to wear masks in public,” Biden said, adding that he will likely be accepting the party’s nomination — now that he has secured the required number of delegates — in a nearly empty room.
It’s not clear that a president has the constitutional authority to order all Americans to wear a mask in public. And in any event, it’s likely his order would be challenged in federal court.
That said, there is a growing body of evidence, anecdotal and scientific, indicating that mask-wearing does not appreciably stop the spread of coronavirus.
Anecdotally, even in parts of the country where residents are required to wear masks while in public, the virus has spread and continues to do so.
Scientifically, it’s becoming clearer that mask-wearing to combat the spread is inefficient at best and ineffective at worst.
Last month, for example, researchers led by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine discovered that coronavirus can enter through the eyes as well as the nose and mouth.
The team found that coronavirus attaches to ACE-2 receptors, called the “gateway” into body cells.
“Together, these results indicate that ocular surface cells including conjunctiva are susceptible to infection by SARS-CoV-2, and could, therefore, serve as a portal of entry as well as a reservoir for person-to-person transmission of this virus,” the team wrote.
Also, health officials in Sweden — a country that did not ‘shut down’ due to the virus — said that mask-wearing in public did not appreciably ‘flatten the coronavirus curve.’
“Face masks in public spaces do not provide any greater protection to the population,” Johan Carlson from the Swedish Public Health Agency Folkhälsomyndigheten told a May 13 press conference.
According to Swedish media outlet The Local:
Swedish health authorities argue that keeping a distance, washing your hands, not touching your face, and staying at home if you experience any symptoms are still the best ways to halt the spread of the coronavirus. There is a concern that wearing face masks would make people follow these guidelines less strictly.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said during the same news conference, “There is a risk of a false sense of security, that you believe that you can’t be infected if you wear a face mask.”
In April, the World Health Organization also downplayed the wearing of masks.
“There is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19,” the agency said.
While claiming to follow science, many cities around the U.S. continue to require that people wear masks. But some scientists and health experts have noted that wearing a mask outside of a sterile surgical or hospital environment is pointless because many people constantly touch and adjust their masks without first washing their hands.
William Schaffner, M.D., a professor of health policy and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, noted further that masks like those being worn to protect against COVID-19 are “not designed to be worn eight hours a day,” and for multiple days.
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