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'Makes Zero Sense': Health Experts Warn Against Feinstein Threat to Withhold Covid-19 Funding to Compel Mask Mandates

"Simply put—there have to be better ways to accomplish the goal of incentivizing mask wearing."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) speaks to a member of the press after a vote at the U.S. Capitol May 7, 2020 in Washington. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Public health experts on Friday panned a proposed amendment from a senior Democratic senator that would cut coronavirus aid money to states where leaders refuse to institute mask mandates. 

Though the amendment was put forth by Feinstein as a way to compel better public health decisions, especially by many Republican lawmakers openly opposing mask-wearing and state-level mandates, Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) president Dr. Adam Gaffney told Common Dreams the plan would only end up harming the most vulnerable.

"While policies to increase use of masks are logical public health measures, it makes zero sense to punish the residents of states for the decisions of their leaders by withholding crucial stimulus dollars as a legislative stick," said Gaffney. "States need urgent assistance now to maintain health, educational, and other social programs." 

Feinstein's plan would prohibit federal funding for any state without a statewide mask mandate. About half of all states have a mandate in place; in other states, like Georgia, leaders have resisted urgings from public health experts and efforts by local city and county officials to impose such a rule.

"This is a matter of life or death," Feinstein said in a statement, "and partisan politics shouldn't play a role."

According to Benjamin Corb, public affairs director for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, threatening to cut the funding makes as much sense as the White House's push to reopen schools.

"While I understand the temptation, using federal funds during a pandemic to force behavior (whether it be the administration and school reopening, or Sen.Feinstein and this policy) isn't the best way forward," Corb told Common Dreams in an email.

Corb acknowledged that the science supports Feinstein's contention that states should mandate masks, calling the science behind wearing masks to prevent transmission of Covid-19 "clear and indisputable."

"My concern is that Sen. Feinstein's proposal will hurt the average citizens of a state for the unwise actions of their governor or local leaders," said Corb. "Simply put—there have to be better ways to accomplish the goal of incentivizing mask wearing."

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