Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) drafted an order that would’ve required passengers and employees to wear face masks on all buses, trains, subways, planes, stations and airports, but the White House blocked it, according to two anonymous federal health officials who spoke with The New York Times.
While Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Alex M. Azar II reportedly approved of the order, the White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, said such an order should be left to states and cities to decide.
“Most public health officials believe that wearing masks is one of the most effective ways to protect against the spread of the virus,” the Times wrote, “particularly in crowded, poorly ventilated public places that attract people from all over, like transportation venues.”
Democratic Oregon Representative Peter A. DeFazio, chairman of the House committee on transportation and infrastructure, criticized the Trump Administration for declining the order and endangering the lives of transportation orders. The transportation trades department of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which represents millions of transit workers, said the White House rejected their petition asking for a transportation mask mandate as well.
While enforcing mask use has been the biggest challenge for workers operating under such mandates, the Trump administration’s repeated politicization of face masks was one of the numerous grievances mentioned this week by The New England Journal of Medicine in its first-ever editorial published in its 208-year history.
The editorial, entitled “Dying in a Leadership Vacuum”, called the Trump Administration “dangerously incompetent” and accused it of undermining governors, politicizing both face masks and the vaccine, believing in “charlatans” and sidelining the CDC, the FDA and the National Institutes of Health in important decision making.
“Anyone else who recklessly squandered lives and money in this way would be suffering legal consequences,” the editorial stated.
Granted, this only marks the most recent time that the Trump administration has directly interfered with the CDC’s approach for controlling the ongoing pandemic which continues to infect over 40,000 Americans each day.
Three months ago, the Trump Administration forbade the head of the CDC from publicly discussing the danger of reopening schools, and last month it was revealed that Trump-appointed political officials in HHS had pressured the CDC to change its reports on COVID-19 to conform with Trump’s rosy public statements on the epidemic.
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