President Joe Biden is urging Americans to continue wearing masks for at least the next year in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Biden, who since taking office has made tackling the outbreak a central focus of his administration, visited the National Institute of Health (NIH) on Thursday in Maryland. As part of the trip, Biden toured the NIH’s viral pathologies division, which is responsible for identifying future pandemics, and he delivered a public address to the institute’s staff.
During his remarks, Biden, flanked on stage by Dr. Anthony Fauci and NIH Director Francis Collins, discussed the situation facing the country as it sought to scale the production of coronavirus vaccines and develop a large scale distribution network. To highlight the seriousness of those efforts as well as the need for the public to remain cautious and continue following guidelines to lower the rate of coronavirus transmission, the president refused to remove his mask during the address.
“I had a little discussion with my friends behind me, Dr. Collins and Dr. Fauci, about whether or not I should take my mask off,” Biden told the audience. “And the truth is even though we are more than 10 feet away, I think it’s important that I not.
“It’s critically important as a message, [and] I realize that I’m speaking to a vast majority … of folks out here at NIH [who] know that wearing this mask over the next year here can save lives, a significant number of lives.”
The president’s comments came shortly after Johns Hopkins University released data showing that nearly 74,000 individuals had succumbed to the coronavirus since Biden took office three weeks ago. The growing death toll, which the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests could reach more than 500,000 nationwide by mid-February, has the federal government contemplating new ways to combat the virus.
On Wednesday, the CDC put out a preview of a soon-to-be-published report on how to best maximize masks to prevent transmission of the coronavirus. One of the solutions, the study suggested, was that Americans “double mask.” The practice is exactly as it sounds, with individuals wearing two masks at once.