Health and Science

President-elect Biden implores Americans to wear a mask: It's 'not a political statement'

Key Points
  • President-elect Joe Biden urged Americans to wear a mask to help the country bring the coronavirus under control and to save lives.
  • Biden made his comments hours after Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their coronavirus vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 among those without evidence of prior infection.
  • Biden's remarks stand in stark contrast to that of President Trump, who resisted wearing a mask in public for months at the start of the pandemic.
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President-elect Joe Biden on Covid-19: We're still facing a very dark winter

President-elect Joe Biden urged Americans on Monday to wear a mask to help the country bring the coronavirus pandemic under control, to save lives and to enable communities to reopen schools and businesses.

Biden made his comments hours after Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their coronavirus vaccine was more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 among those without evidence of prior infection.

"It doesn't matter who you voted for, where you stood before Election Day. It doesn't matter your party or your point of view," he said. "We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months."

Biden's comments came as the coronavirus is surging across the country. Epidemiologists and medical experts are warning that the worst days of the pandemic are still ahead. The country reported more than 105,900 new cases on Sunday, bringing the seven-day average up over 108,700, an increase of more than 33% compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Biden said that bold action is needed to combat the pandemic as the country faces a "very dark winter."

"Please, I implore you, wear a mask," Biden said. "Do it for yourself. Do it for your neighbor. A mask is not a political statement, but it is a good way to start pulling the country together."

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks to reporters about efforts to confront the coronavirus diisease (COVID-19) pandemic after meeting with members of his "Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board" in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 9, 2020.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Biden's remarks stand in stark contrast to that of President Donald Trump, who resisted wearing a mask in public for months at the start of the pandemic.

Top health officials, including Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said masks are one of the best ways available to control the spread of the virus. But the wearing of masks has become a political flashpoint across much of the U.S., with debate raging over local and state mandates to wear a mask in public.

"I want to be very clear: The goal of mask wearing is not to make your life less comfortable, or to take something away from you," Biden said Monday. "It is to give something back to all of us, a normal life."

Biden also said he will ramp up the availability of rapid diagnostic testing across the country. The Trump administration has substantially increased testing since the beginning of the outbreak, but some public health specialists say the administration should have invested more in testing. Proponents of more widespread testing say that it helps identify infectious people, who can then quarantine and cut off chains of transmission before they balloon into outbreaks.

In addition to testing, Biden said he is "building a corps of contact tracers who will track and curb this disease."

Contact tracing is the process whereby trained personnel contact people who have tested positive for the virus and identify others who might have been exposed and infected. It's long been used to contain infectious diseases like tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases, but it's never been implemented on the scale demanded by the pandemic.

World Health Organization officials have repeatedly called on countries to scale up their contact-tracing infrastructure along with the ability to test broadly for the coronavirus.

Infectious disease specialists from Johns Hopkins University and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials proposed a plan in early April to ramp up a national test and trace effort. It would require a workforce of 100,000 people, the proposal said, and cost $3.6 billion. 

Biden also vowed to ramp up production of personal protective equipment such as medical gowns, masks and gloves, which help health workers avoid infection while treating Covid-19 patients. On the website for the president-elect's transition team, Biden says he plans to "fully use the Defense Production Act" to increase supply of PPE.

The DPA is a World War II-era law that allows the president to compel the private sector to manufacture equipment of national security importance. Trump invoked it earlier in the pandemic to manufacture equipment such as ventilators.

Biden's task force

Earlier Monday, Biden announced the members of his 12-person Covid-19 "advisory board." It includes prominent infectious disease specialists and global health experts. The panel is co-chaired by former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. David Kessler and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith of Yale University.

The board also includes Dr. Rick Bright, the vaccine expert and whistleblower who resigned his post with the Trump administration last month. Bright previously headed the powerful Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority before he was allegedly sidelined for pushing back on directives from the White House.

Another member of the panel, Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said Monday on CNBC's "Squawk Alley" just before Biden spoke that the country is "about to enter Covid hell."

"We have not even come close to the peak and, as such, our hospitals are now being overrun," Osterholm said. "The next three to four months are going to be, by far, the darkest of the pandemic."

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Dr. Michael Osterholm on joining President-elect Biden's coronavirus task force