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Face masks for everyone

There’s a lot of back and forth regarding Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden’s declaration that he would impose a federal mask mandate to combat the spread of COVID-19 if elected president.

He announced the planned mandate at the Democrat National Convention in August but now he’s unsure. On Sept. 16, he said, “The question is whether I have the legal authority as president to sign an executive order. We think we do, but can’t guarantee you that yet.”

Then, during a CNN town hall event Sept. 17, he said he would not have the authority to mandate people wear face masks in public.

Whether mask wearing can be federally mandated or not, a nationwide approach could slow the spread of COVID-19 from state to state. A federal mask wearing directive is especially important for Hawaii in light of recent developments. Gov. David Ige has announced a pre-travel testing option for visitors to our state, beginning Oct. 15, that may result in a bump in arrivals from the Mainland. County mayors and Ige have been discussing the pre-travel testing program for interisland flyers. On Wednesday, Ige opened the door to a pre-testing option for Neighbor Island travel in his 13th supplementary emergency proclamation. The interisland quarantine for travelers arriving in all counties, except Honolulu, remains in place, but the proclamation “empowers” the counties to adopt a negative test exception process for traverlers to bypass quarantine.

Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said during testimony before a Senate subcommittee Sept. 16, that wearing face masks may be more effective at protecting against COVID-19 than a vaccine.

“I’m not going to comment directly about the president, but I am going to comment as the CDC director that face masks, these face masks, are the most important powerful public health tool we have,” Redfield said. “And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings.”

Stay-at-home orders and other draconian restrictions are no fun. Mandatory mask wearing, however, is a sacrifice worth making when it comes to protecting the public health. It is also preferable to a lockdown.

Thankfully, President Donald Trump has acknowledged the importance of mask wearing after months of questioning its effectiveness. A nationwide mask wearing directive from him would undoubtedly help stem the spread of COVID-19 until a vaccine is tested and approved for public use.

The situation is urgent. The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus topped 200,000 Tuesday, by far the highest in the world.

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