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Wearing a face mask to reduce the chance of transmission of the coronavirus, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) arrives at the U.S. Capitol for a vote May 18, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Wearing a face mask to reduce the chance of transmission of the coronavirus, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) arrives at the U.S. Capitol for a vote May 18, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Warren Urges CDC Director to Push Mask Mandates as Covid-19 Cases and Deaths Surge Across the US

New polling shows a bipartisan majority of registered voters support states requiring people to wear face coverings in public.

Jessica Corbett

While the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on communities across the United States, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is urging the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get involved in mandating face masks to "ensure the health and safety of all Americans" and help "control the surge" in Covid-19 cases that some regions are seeing.

"As cases continue to rise across the country—most severely in areas that initially took weak preventative public health measures or reopened prematurely—it is imperative that the federal government immediately take action to stop the spread," the Massachusetts Democrat and former presidential primary candidate wrote in a Monday letter (pdf) to CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield obtained by CNN.

The senator pointed to a section of federal law which says that whenever the CDC director "determines that the measures taken by health authorities of any state or possession (including political subdivisions thereof) are insufficient to prevent the spread of any of the communicable diseases from such state or possession to any other state or possession, he/she may take such measures to prevent such spread of the diseases as he/she deems reasonably necessary."

Warren wrote:

These authorities were delegated to the CDC to address significant public health threats that cross state and municipal borders and therefore cannot be controlled by a single state or community—such as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Given the overwhelming evidence showing that social distancing, wearing a mask, and careful reopening save lives, and the ongoing indications that other actions currently being taken by many states are "insufficient to prevent the spread" of the coronavirus, I am requesting information about whether the CDC has taken any efforts to exercise these authorities or evaluate whether certain states or local jurisdictions would warrant and benefit from more serious interventions from federal public health authorities.

The senator added that she "would like to know whether the CDC will use its authorities to intervene in instances where state governors or other officials order the removal of restrictions or mask mandates," specifically citing GOP Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's July 15 executive order banning local mask mandates in his state.

Warren's letter—which preceded President Donald Trump's revival of pandemic briefings on Tuesday—challenged recent comments from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence dismissing concerns about rising infections. She warned that "we are seeing a massive surge in Covid-19 cases in nearly 50 states and territories across the country," and included remarks from both the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and Redfield himself.

As of Wednesday morning, according to the Johns Hopkins University global tracker, there were more than 3.9 million confirmed Covid-19 cases in the United States and over 142,000 had died from the disease. The U.S. daily death toll topped 1,000 on Tuesday for the first time since June 2.

CDC research published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that based on antibodies in blood samples from 10 regions in the U.S., the actual number of infections could be six to 24 times higher than the reported figures. In most of those regions, the actual number of cases was 10 times the reported figure.

The study says that "the findings may reflect the number of persons who had mild or no illness or who did not seek medical care or undergo testing but who still may have contributed to ongoing virus transmission in the population." Given the risk of asymptomatic transmission, the study adds that "the public should continue to take steps to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, such as wearing cloth face coverings when outside the home, remaining six feet apart from other people, washing hands frequently, and staying home when sick."

A Politico/Morning Consult conducted in mid-July and published Wednesday found that 72% of U.S. voters across the political spectrum somewhat or strongly support states requiring people to cover their faces in public and fining or jailing individuals who refused to comply with local mask mandates.

As municipalities and states implement a wide range of requirements and relief efforts related to the pandemic while Senate Republicans drag their feet on federal Covid-19 legislation, progressives in Congress are pushing for national action to limit the spread of the virus and aid Americans affected by the crisis.

In a CNN op-ed with public health expert and Andy Slavitt last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt). promised to soon introduce "Masks for All" legislation that would use the Defense Production Act and the U.S. Postal Service to make and distribute high-quality face coverings for everyone in the country.

Warren, in a Tuesday opinion piece for the New York Times, wrote that "we need a bold, ambitious legislative response that does four things: brings the virus under control; gets our schools, childcare centers, businesses, and state and local governments the resources they need; addresses the burdens on communities of color; and supports struggling families who don't know when the next paycheck will come."

Noting that the Democrat-held House passed a coronavirus relief bill over two months ago that Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has still not allowed for a vote, Warren said that the upper chamber must now "act to contain the virus and to provide the funding so that our economy, our schools, and our families can begin to recover."

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