Biden Pleads with Governors to Reinstate Mask Mandates

A shocking number of states no longer require them and the Leader of the Free World lacks the authority to change that.

President Joe Biden signs executive orders on immigration Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House.
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

With a fourth wave of COVID hitting and vaccinations expected to hit critical mass soon, the President and CDC are strongly urging Americans to wear masks. Alas, only state governors have the power to make it mandatory and half of them are not doing so.

NYT (“Biden Pushes Mask Mandate as C.D.C. Director Warns of ‘Impending Doom’“):

President Biden, facing a rise in coronavirus cases around the country, called on Monday for governors and mayors to reinstate mask mandates as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of “impending doom” from a potential fourth surge of the pandemic.

The president’s comments came only hours after the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, appeared to fight back tears as she pleaded with Americans to “hold on a little while longer” and continue following public health advice, like wearing masks and social distancing, to curb the virus’s spread.

The back-to-back appeals reflected a growing sense of urgency among top White House officials and government scientists that the chance to conquer the pandemic, now in its second year, may slip through their grasp. Coronavirus infections and hospitalizations are on the upswing, including a troubling rise in the Northeast, even as the pace of vaccinations is accelerating.

“Please, this is not politics — reinstate the mandate,” Mr. Biden said, adding, “The failure to take this virus seriously is precisely what got us into this mess in the first place.”

Alas, like it or not, mask-wearing is very much politics and has been since the beginning. People in large swaths of the country believe they’re too burdensome and/or do very little to stop viral transmission. That, of course, was helped along by former President Trump and likeminded Republican governors.

While masks have been mandatory here in Virginia for roughly a year now, it’s not in the vast middle of the country:

I’m honestly surprised that my longtime home state of Alabama is among those still requiring masks—especially since the more progressive Georgia (which just voted for Joe Biden and two Democratic Senators) next door isn’t.

Of course, mask restrictions do little good if they’re not enforced and/or people don’t voluntarily comply. In the Northern Virginia suburbs of DC, where I live, compliance is shockingly good. While a great number of store clerks continue to wear their masks like chin straps, the overwhelming number of patrons are doing what they’re supposed to. Indeed, most seem to be going overboard, wearing their masks in store parking lots despite no requirement or obvious rationale for doing so.

Regardless, relief is ostensibly coming:

Public health experts say that the nation is in a race between the vaccination campaign and new, worrisome coronavirus variants. Although more than one in three American adults have received at least one shot and nearly one-fifth are fully vaccinated, the nation is a long way away from reaching so-called herd immunity — the tipping point that comes when spread of a virus begins to slow because so many people, estimated at 70 to 90 percent of the population, are immune to it.

[…]

Mr. Biden said on Monday that the administration was taking steps to expand vaccine eligibility and access, including opening a dozen new mass vaccination centers. He directed his coronavirus response team to ensure that 90 percent of Americans would be no farther than five miles from a vaccination site by April 19.

The president said doses were plentiful enough now that nine of 10 adults in the nation — or more — would be eligible for a shot by that date.

That means we still have a ways to go but the end is in sight. Still, if everyone who wants one can get their first shot by May 1, that means they’ll be fully vaccinated by mid-June—faster if they get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson variant. Wearing a mask for necessary public activities for another few weeks seems like a reasonable sacrifice.

Of course, if we continue to see high rates of vaccine rejection, we’re not going to reach “herd immunity” until they get enough people sick to achieve it the hard way.

FILED UNDER: COVID-19
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Andy says:

    Here in Colorado starting on April 4th, the mask mandate will be tied Covid incidence levels by county except for education and high-risk settings, which will continue to have the mandate regardless of county status.

    1
  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    You know, you’d think what with Biden already bringing on the socialist hell that will reduce men to gunless impotence, force women to become trans men and put babies on the menu at Dominos, Biden would have the power to impose mask rules.

    20
  3. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The mind-control chips implanted with the vaccine give Biden and Bill Gates the vast army they need to enforce the socialist hell.

    10
  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    The good news is that Darwin always wins. Maybe, just maybe, covid infections spiking in a few of these states where Dems have become competitive will results in a Dem in the governors mansion and picking up some seats in the legislature.

    1
  5. CSK says:

    @Andy:
    It was my understanding that the vaccines are being used to sterilize people.

    6
  6. gVOR08 says:

    Florida is essentially open. Businesses “require” masks, but as people decide, “We have the vaccine, thank gawd that’s over.” I see less compliance. Most store or restaurant personnel still mask, a lot even over the nose, but I see more unmasked customers. And with no backup from government no store manager is going to make a thing out of it. And although it’s somewhat reduced, if for no other reason than thatCanadians can’t travel, the snowbirds are here so restaurants and bars are crowded. FL case rates started going back up about a month ago and it looks like the drop in deaths is over. Its stabilizing and looks like it’s starting to go back up. Definitely in a race between the vaccine and stupidity. Deaths follow infections. Hoocoodanode.

    But Guv DeUseless is well financed for ‘22 and that’s all that really matters.

    2
  7. Gustopher says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    The good news is that Darwin always wins.

    Does it though? For the past century, we’ve had pretty good healthcare that has resulted in a lot fewer people dying from their stupidity. Lots of people who would have removed themselves from the gene pool are having kids.

    Consider for a moment: if the dumbass gene is no longer being weeded out, would that explain the election of Donald Trump?

  8. gVOR08 says:

    After I posted @gVOR08: I checked out my local semi-pro newspaper which is carrying an AP story on Guv DePetomaine:

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that he would issue an executive order forbidding local governments and businesses from requiring so-called “vaccine passports”…
    He made the announcement on a day when more Floridians would become eligible for vaccination and during a ceremony he convened at the state Capitol to sign into law a bill approved by the Legislature on Friday that would bar COVID-related lawsuits against businesses that have made good-faith efforts to comply with guidelines meant to stop the spread of the virus.
    “It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply participate in normal society,” the governor said. …
    The governor has rejected mask mandates and has used his executive authority to preempt local governments from enforcing such measures. …
    As of Sunday, the state of Florida reported that 2,044,005 coronavirus cases and 33,819 deaths.

  9. steve says:

    We are seeing an increase in hospitalizations. We now have a fair number of people in the 40-60 age range in our ICUs, a lot of them intubated. My worry is that this represents a change in the virus but I am hoping it is just that these are the same number of people in this age range we would have seen 6 months ago, but now the old people are vaccinated.

    Steve

    2
  10. Jay L Gischer says:

    Well the story we saw out of Galveston last week shows that businesses can still require masks, and the police will back them up.

    So this looks like, at least for Greg Abbot, a chance to duck any responsibility while hoping for only a slight increase in the transmission rate. Texas appears to be progressing pretty well in terms of getting its vaccinations out there, but that might be because there are a lot of refusers? I don’t really know.

  11. de stijl says:

    My state officially has no restriction, but in my city every store requires a mask.

    I kinda like masks in that I don’t have to wear my stupid fake teeth anymore just to go buy groceries.

    3
  12. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    The thesis in Cyril Kornbluth’s story “The Marching Morons,” is that smarter people have fewer children and wait longer to do so, as opposed to stupider people who have lots of children and don’t care when they do. this leads to a dim-witted population who can’t even take care of themselves, and it’s left to the smart elite to do so.

    Would that it were so simple.

    2
  13. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    If you live in a Republican-led state you are 1.8 time more likely to be infected by COVID.
    Studies show between 40 and 80% of American deaths were needless and caused by Trump and Republican incompetence.
    Wearing a mask is not a political statement. It’s an IQ test. A test that Republicans have never faired well at.

    1
  14. Kingdaddy says:

    @gVOR08:

    “It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply participate in normal society,” the governor said. …

    “It’s completely unacceptable for citizens to be unable to participate in normal society because their fellow citizens refuse to be mildly inconvenienced,” a real governor said.

    2
  15. Teve says:

    @steve:

    We are seeing an increase in hospitalizations. We now have a fair number of people in the 40-60 age range in our ICUs, a lot of them intubated.

    I got the vaccine as soon as I possibly could, which was last Thursday, and after getting the vaccine I was about a block away from Panera. I like sitting in Panera and drinking coffee and catching up on New Yorker issues, but as I walked toward the building, it being 12:30 PM, I noticed that the café was absolutely slam packed. And I turned around and drove away.

    2
  16. gVOR08 says:

    @Kingdaddy: I regularly take a look at The American Conservative to see if they have anything worth reading. Today one Nick Hankoff has an article making a hero of the woman who was arrested for refusing to wear a mask in a TX Bank of America. He says masks are an infringement on your rights and it’s your libertarian duty to protest by refusing to wear one. I was going to leave a snarky drive-by liberal comment, but the regulars at TAC almost unanimously commented that the article was stupid. I guess that counts as a hopeful sign.

    4
  17. Kathy says:

    Remember early in the pandemic many on the right advocated for herd immunity? now that we can have it without killing massive numbers of people, it’s too damn inconvenient for them to want it.

    6
  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy: Herd immunity was, and is, nothing but code words for doing nothing, which is what Trump and my Governor (sic) DeSantis badly wanted to do. And nothing includes no masks. Masks aren’t freedumb.

    4
  19. I’m honestly surprised that my longtime home state of Alabama is among those still requiring masks—especially since the more progressive Georgia (which just voted for Joe Biden and two Democratic Senators) next door isn’t.

    Governor Ivey has been substantially better about the pandemic than has Governor Kemp. Our mandate is set to expire 4/9, so we shall see if she extends (I don’t expect that she will).

    1
  20. Pete S says:

    James, wearing masks in the parking lot is important for many of us as it prevents us from having to go back to our cars because we forgot it.

    6
  21. de stijl says:

    @Teve:

    I cannot see a Panera and not think of Pantera and Dimebag Darrell.

    They make passable bread if you do not have access to a decent local bakery.

    Pantera (fka Panera) was the the off-shoot of another bread based joint called Au Bon Pain.

    There was a local outlet in the lobby of the IDS Center and we would try to outdo each other with Masochism jokes every time we walked by.

  22. gVOR08 says:

    @Pete S: Also, I don’t wear a cloth mask. I wear a shaped dust mask. It’s not N95, but it’s probably better filter material than cloth and definitely a tighter fit. The big thing is it has a strap behind the head, not two ear loops. I wear eyeglasses and hearing aids. It’s already crowded behind my ears. I can’t fold it and put it in a pocket, so it lives on my head or hanging from a knob on the dash. Much more convenient to take it off in the car than in the parking lot. I sometimes wear it in the car, where I’m protected by the HVAC’s HEPA filter, just because I haven’t gotten around to taking it off. It’s not like it’s uncomfortable.

    But more to the point, what’s the downside to wearing it in the parking lot?

  23. de stijl says:

    @gVOR08:

    The only reason I ever read TAC was for the pushback in the comments. After that was 86’d, I never saw the point. Dreher & co. can drown in obscurity.

    Have things changed?

    The comments were the only interesting thing.

  24. flat earth luddite says:

    @Pete S:
    Personally, I figure my trips back out to the car add about a mile to my daily exercise routine. (snark emoji here)

  25. charon says:

    AZ may not require masks but most of the municipalities in Maricopa county still mandate them.

    I am still seeing total compliance at the groceries.

    3
  26. Kathy says:

    Bad news for maskholes. Masks reduce cold and flu incidence.

    I don’t for a minute think this will lead to wide adoption of masks, never mind mandates, during cold and flu season. But it shows it’s a good idea to wear masks during that period. Some businesses might require them (not many, I know).

    1
  27. Pete S says:

    @flat earth luddite:

    The extra walk is a definite upside (with or without the snark, I get you’re joking). But when you show up at the grocery store door with no mask on you can see the clerk tense up as they assume you’re a jackass and they are about to face some abuse. After all a lot of stupid people think their arguments make more sense when they are louder. For what those poor people get paid I don’t want to cause any more stress.