In a study published last week in the journal Nature, researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated that “universal use of masks” – when 95% of people wear face masks public – could prevent nearly 130,000 deaths from Covid -19 in the coming months, although those numbers are based on certain assumptions and could change if people change their behavior. Currently, only 69% of Americans wear masks, according to data collected by the institute.
Even so, any hint of a sweeping federal demand “would pass like a balloon of lead” and “divide and harden parts of the country in opposition,” said Joel White, a Republican strategist specializing in health policy. Mr White said the Trump administration’s policy of letting state and local leaders decide on masks was “a much better way forward.”
But that hasn’t produced the kind of compliance public health experts deem necessary to reduce the spread of the virus. As of last week, 33 states and the District of Columbia required masks to be worn in public, according to a list compiled by the AARP. But in parts of the country, particularly in heavily Republican states, resistance runs deep – even when cases soar.
Many people in rural areas find masks unnecessary for them as they do not live in crowded cities; in North Dakota, coronavirus cases are increasing faster than any other state in the country, but according to data from the University of Washington, only 46% of North Dakotans wear masks.
Gov. Doug Burgum, a first-term Republican seeking re-election, is strongly opposed to a term, saying that if he favors wearing masks, people should do so out of “personal responsibility.”
During a visit to the state on Monday, Dr Deborah L. Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, slammed the North Dakotans after a private meeting with the governor and business leaders.