Viewpoint: ‘It’s not a political statement’ – Former FDA chief Scott Gottlieb calls for nationwide mask mandate

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Credit: Darrin McDonald/WOSU

As deaths rise this winter, policy makers will have to take new steps to slow the rate of spread. There is no support for reprising this spring’s stay-at-home orders. It will be essential to use standard interventions, including limits on crowded settings such as bars and continuing to test and trace contacts. But on the current trajectory these measures won’t be enough to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed in some areas.

[Editor’s note: Dr. Scott Gottlieb is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and was commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, 2017-19.]

Masks would help. As a practical matter, it’s easier to wear a mask in the winter than the summer. A mandate can be expressly limited to the next two months. The inconvenience would allow the country to preserve health-care capacity and keep more schools and businesses open. Studies show widespread use of masks can reduce spread. But even if masks are only incrementally helpful, they are among the least economically costly and burdensome options for reducing spread.

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There’s a presumption that a mask mandate would have to be backed up with fines and set off scuffles with law enforcement. Not necessarily. States should be able to choose how to enforce a mandate, but the goal should be to make masks a social and cultural norm, not a political statement.

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