The White House blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from implementing a rule mandating all passengers and employees to wear face coverings on public and commercial transportation.
Officials told The New York Times that the order, which would have been the administration’s most stringent measure to curb the coronavirus’s spread, was drafted under the CDC’s “quarantine powers” and had the backing of Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. But the White House’s coronavirus task force, headed by Vice President Pence, declined to consider it.
Among the places where people would have been required to wear masks are airplanes, trains, buses and subways, along with transportation centers such as airports, train stations and bus depots. An administration official told the Times the task force believed the decision to mandate masks should be left to state and local governments.
The administration does not sign off on COVID-19 policies that have not been approved by the task force.
Video: Even after coronavirus vaccine, we’ll still need masks, handwashing: Former HHS secretary (Fox Business)
“The approach the task force has taken with any mask mandate is, the response in New York City is different than Montana, or Tuscaloosa, Alabama,” the official told The Times. “Local and state authorities need to determine the best approach for their responsive effort depending on how the coronavirus is impacting their area.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.
Masks are widely touted by public health officials as among the most effective tools in curbing the spread of COVID-19, which has infected more than 7.6 million people in the U.S. and killed more than 213,000.
“These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have, and I will continue to appeal for all Americans to embrace these face coverings, if we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks we’d bring this pandemic under control,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a hearing last month.
Critics have panned the White House’s stance on masks, hitting President Trump for initially refusing to wear masks in public before he succumbed to public pressure and donned face coverings. An event at the White House late last month that was held outside but featured a tightly packed and largely maskless crowd appears to have led to a string of COVID-19 infections – including in Trump – leading Anthony Fauci, the government’s leading infectious diseases expert, to dub it a “superspreader event.”
The White House and the CDC have found themselves at odds on multiple occasions throughout the pandemic, with the coronavirus task force blocking Redfield’s order to keep cruise ships docked until mid-February and Health and Human Services officials seeking to edit or block guidance the CDC puts out.