This PSA brought to you by HHS and … Fox & Friends? The strategy here seems very clear — aim at the most resistant demographic to mask-wearing, which right now appear to be Donald Trump supporters. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and HHS released a straightforward PSA early today urging all Americans to adopt facemasks, arguing that the science shows it to be the best defense against asymptomatic spread of COVID-19.
“I’m begging you,” Adams says, “wear a mask” when out in public:
It’s not much of a surprise that Adams and the White House would target this message to Fox viewers. The debate over masks owes its genesis to the contradictory claims made by CDC at various points of the pandemic. Now, however, Adams emphasizes that the difference is the recognition of asymptomatic spread, which makes reopening the American public square nearly impossible without widespread adoption of barriers to transmission:
“I’m pleading with your viewers. I’m begging you,” Adams told the hosts of “Fox & Friends” in an interview. “Please understand that we are not trying to take away your freedoms when we say, ‘Wear a face covering.’” …
“We were wrong back in February and March based on the fact that we didn’t think there would be this high a degree of asymptomatic spread of coronavirus,” Adams said Monday.
But “once we realized that the science was different for this virus, we changed our recommendations,” he continued, adding that “moving forward, I want people to understand we’re all on the same page.”
The “take away your freedoms” line is a specific point. Resistance to mask-wearing has taken the form of a civil-rights protest, largely from the discussion of mandates on their use. Had the medical establishment been more honest about masks from the beginning, it’s possible that mask usage wouldn’t have become so politicized, about which more in a moment. However, that’s the argument that one sees in some conservative circles, and now the medical establishment is trying to put out a fire they largely started themselves.
What might sound surprising is host Steve Doocy’s apparent support for a national mask mandate:
On Fox & Friends, the Surgeon General advocates for mask wearing but stops short of calling for a federal mandate, because that would require a "federal enforcement mechanism" that could look like Portland, OR. pic.twitter.com/ktGHa6RmOf
— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) July 20, 2020
Adams will get a lot of heat for sounding skeptical of a federal mandate, but he makes a very rational argument against it: who would enforce it? We don’t have a national police force — the FBI doesn’t qualify as one — so we would have to use federal troops to do it. Mayors in Portland, Seattle, Atlanta, and Minneapolis balked at that option when their cities were literally burning and anarchists were roaming the streets. Now they want the feds to enforce a mask mandate? Suuuure they do. What they actually want is to pass the buck to Trump rather than handle their own responsibilities.
Of course, Trump could help out by modeling the proper behavior, which he has been loathe to do until now. Adams emphasizes that Trump is on board now while stepping lightly around his less-than-full embrace of universal use:
"This whole administration is now supportive of masks." –U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, today, July 20th, 131 days into the pandemic pic.twitter.com/nnWiwHmK5j
— The Recount (@therecount) July 20, 2020
Yesterday, Trump told Chris Wallace that he now approves of mask-wearing, but that it should be an individual choice. He also complained about Adams and Anthony Fauci’s about-face on masks, which won’t exactly change hearts and minds:
“Dr. Fauci said, ‘Don’t wear a mask.’ Our surgeon general, terrific guy, said, ‘Don’t wear a mask,’” Trump said in an interview that aired Sunday. “Everybody who was saying, ‘Don’t wear a mask,’ all of a sudden, everybody’s got to wear a mask.”
So maybe not everyone’s exactly “on the same page,” but it appears they want to get to that point quickly. If Trump wants the economy to reopen and stay reopened, his administration has to either start promoting universal mask usage or approve a vaccine for immediate and widespread distribution. We’re coming close on the latter, but still realistically a few months out. And Trump can’t afford to see the economy tank on the misdirected belief that masks are intended to oppress Americans rather than protect them. By that time, it will be too late — electorally speaking, as well as medically speaking.