The US has entered an ominous new surge of the coronavirus pandemic, with more cases reported on Friday than any other day since the crisis began in March. And yet, in many areas of the country where infections are spiking, wearing a mask in public is still completely optional.
Eight months into the pandemic, 15 states still do not require residents to wear masks. They are all led by Republicans governors who have stressed the importance of individual responsibility over broad government action to halt the spread of the virus. Many are now COVID-19 hot spots.
Governors, of course, look to the White House for guidance, and the Trump administration has been inconsistent on the question of masks. Infectious disease experts interviewed by HuffPost said the failure of the White House to put forth a coherent, unified plan to stem the pandemic ― including a nationwide mask mandate ― has had calamitous repercussions.
Of the 10 states with the highest rates of new coronavirus cases per capita according to a White House Coronavirus Task Force report this month, seven do not require residents to wear masks.
“We have an orchestra with all the instruments playing their own notes, and there’s a conductor who is indifferent to what’s going on,” said William Schaffner, professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee. He supports a national mask mandate. “By leaving it to the various states, it has confused the public enormously. Our national response gets an F,” Schaffner said.
In North Dakota, which now leads the nation in new coronavirus cases per capita, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum has refused to implement a mask mandate, saying that he prefers a “light touch of government.” Last week, Fargo became the first city in the state to institute a mask mandate, despite months of rising infections. Overwhelmed by the increase in cases, state health officials are now asking residents to conduct their own contact...