By: Nihar Iyengar — Correspondent
President Biden initiated his “100 Days Masking Challenge” by signing Executive Order 13991 on his first day in office.
The order, formally named the “Executive Order on Protecting the Federal Workforce and Requiring Mask-Wearing,” requires the employment of masks, physical distancing, and other CDC-recommended precautions on all federal property.
While the order requires compliance in federal buildings and on federal lands, the Biden administration cannot legally force states or individual cities to abide by a mask mandate.
“This executive action will direct the agencies to take action to require compliance with CDC guidance on mask-wearing and physical distancing in federal buildings, on federal lands, and by federal employees and contractors,” said Jeff Zients, counselor to the President and Covid-19 response coordinator.
“And the president will call on governors, public health officials, mayors, business leaders, and others to implement masking, physical distancing, and other public measures to control COVID-19,” he added.
The move by the Biden administration counters President Trump’s resistance to mask-wearing, signifying a shift in the mentality of the executive branch with respect to the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“In 100 days we can change the course of the disease and change life in America for the better,” said Biden. “Whatever your politics or point of view, mask up for 100 days.”
Several professional epidemiologists have spoken out in favor of the masking initiative.
100 days of consistent mask-wearing could “do a great deal” to reduce community transmission, said Dr. Chris Breyer, a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in an interview with TODAY.
“We have ongoing high levels of community transmission all over this country. With that rate of community transmission, with the infectiousness of this virus and with the weather that we’re dealing with (leading to) indoor activity, that really consistent mask-wearing could have a major impact on reducing community transmission,” he added.
Robert Hecht, a professor of clinical epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, said that the usage of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) like mask-wearing is crucial when vaccines are not yet available to all groups.
“The burden that (mask-wearing) imposes economically, on people’s going about their business, is so low that it seems to me like it’s a small sacrifice to make to save so many avoidable infections and to ultimately save the lives in hospitals, save the space in mortuaries. If we don’t do that, if we’re not taking advantage of something that’s so easy and painless and costless to do, then frankly we’re making a huge mistake,” he added.
The executive order also established the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, which is comprised of several federal agency heads and jointly chaired by the OPM Director, Administrator of General Services, and COVID-19 Response Coordinator.
“The Task Force shall provide ongoing guidance to heads of agencies on the operation of the Federal Government, the safety of its employees, and the continuity of Government functions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such guidance shall be based on public health best practices as determined by CDC and other public health experts,” states the executive order.
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