During an interview with actor Matthew McConaughey Thursday night, top White House epidemiologist Dr. Anthony Fauci said that “everybody should have to use” a mask — a contradiction with President Trump who Thursday evening criticized presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden for calling for such a mandate.
McConaughey, after getting Fauci — the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) — on the record that the coronavirus is primarily a respiratory virus, asked him whether there should be a mask mandate nationwide.
“You make a really good point that is the subject of a lot of debate,” Fauci responded. “My recommendation as you probably know because I’ve said it publicly so many times is that absolutely we should have universal wearing of masks.”
Fauci added: “The difficulty with mandates is that it tends to be a pushback about, ‘do you have to waste time enforcing it, or can you really use the power of persuasion from the leadership, everybody doing it, because it’s so important?’ And there’s a debate whether you get any extra mileage out of mandating it. Myself, personally, I would say everybody should have to use it.”
The actor also grilled Fauci on whether it is true that blood type affects how likely people are to get the virus — Fauci said yes, but it’s a “minuscule” difference that people shouldn’t worry about. How likely antibodies are to help people avoid being infected a second time — Fauci said they could, but the evidence of how effective they are is not yet clear. And whether Advil makes the coronavirus worse — no, Fauci said, laughing at the question.
Fauci added that a vaccine will likely be more effective than natural antibodies and expressed optimism about its widespread availability in 2021.
But Trump — and many governors, primarily Republicans — have resisted mask mandates, although Trump recently began encouraging people to wear masks when they leave their homes. Trump in a press briefing on Thursday evening said Biden should “stop playing politics with the virus” in regards to his call for a national mask mandate. Trump noted that different states face different circumstances with the pandemic.
“At every turn, Biden has been wrong about the virus, ignoring the scientific evidence and putting left-wing politics before facts,” Trump said at the briefing. “Sleepy Joe opposed both the China and Europe travel bans. He opposed the China travel ban that I instituted very early and the Europe ban I instituted quite early.”
Trump’s remarks came hours after Biden appeared alongside Democratic presidential running mate Kamala Harris ahead of a virtual fundraiser in Wilmington, Del. At the event, Biden called for a nationwide mask mandate, pushing governors to require masks to be worn outside in all states for at least the next three months.
“We will continue to urge Americans to wear masks when they cannot socially distance,” Trump said. “But we do not need to bring the full weight of the federal government down on law-abiding Americans to accomplish this goal.”
Trump added: “All Americans must have their freedoms. I trust the American people and their governors very much… Joe doesn’t know too much.”
Trump has also been criticized for not pushing for a more strict and longer shutdown of the American economy in order to really reduce coronavirus numbers, with many citing the fact that the U.S. now has much higher numbers of cases than some Asian countries that are successfully opening. Fauci said Thursday that the problems the U.S. faces now can be attributed to some states reopening too soon.
“What they did, which is not exactly [what] we did. When they shut down, they shut down like ‘bang,'” Fauci said. “And they went to a very, very low baseline. When we shut down if you look at the tracking of the number of people who didn’t go to their jobs, the number of visits to public places, we shut down but it was never in the level that the Asian countries did.”
Fauci added: “We went up and instead of going all the way down, we plateaued at 20,000 cases a day, which is completely unacceptable. And then, when we started to do things which were understandable and appropriate, ‘let’s open up America again,’ according to the guidelines, what happened is that we didn’t do that in a uniform way. Some states did it better than others. … So what happened is as we started to open, it went up to 30,000, 40, 50, 60, and we peaked at 70,000 a day. We’re down now to 50, but we should have gone all the way down to practically nothing and we didn’t.”
Many have criticized the approach Fauci characterized, saying Americans were pitched a plan to “flatten the curve” and keep hospitals under capacity to stop preventable deaths — not to almost completely eliminate cases with a strict lockdown. Reopenings, however, have put a strain on hospitals in many places, especially in the South and West.
“The goal was to flatten the curve. It was never to stop anyone from getting this virus ever,” Bethany Mandel, an editor at Ricochet, tweeted earlier this month. “That is not possible. The genie is out of the bottle.”
Fox News’ Thomas Barrabi contributed to this report.