President-elect Joe Biden says he will ask the entire country to wear masks for the first 100 days of his presidency, and he will issue federal mask mandates applying to places where he believes he has jurisdiction, including federal buildings and interstate transportation. Biden also committed to allow the public to watch him receive a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
“Just 100 days to mask, not forever. One hundred days. And I think we’ll see a significant reduction,” Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Thursday. He added, “I’m going to issue a standing order that in federal buildings you have to be masked... Transportation, interstate transportation, you must be masked, airplanes and buses, et cetera.”
The outbound Trump administration has continued to flout scientific evidence on pandemic control measures like social distancing, business shutdowns, and mask wearing, leaving his successor a mess. Evidence suggests that forthcoming vaccines from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna will be effective, but unlikely to have a major impact on deaths until at least April. Biden will assume the presidency in the middle of what is anticipated to be one of the most devastating phases of the coronavirus pandemic so far—cases are surging nationwide, and tens of thousands more deaths are expected by Inauguration Day. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation projects that daily deaths will peak in January at over 2,900 every 24 hours.
Constitutional experts are dubious that Biden could legally order a federal mask mandate across the entire country, though he has more power to do so in places where the federal government holds jurisdiction, and he may pressure governors still reluctant to impose state mandates to change their policies. It’s not clear why Biden says he will only ask Americans to wear masks for 100 days rather than indefinitely—other than a calculation that it may seem more politically palatable for mask skeptics.
Biden told CNN during the interview that he will be “happy” to get a coronavirus vaccine and plans to publicly receive the injection to demonstrate total confidence in its safety and effectiveness. The president-elect alluded to concerns of widespread public skepticism over a coronavirus vaccine, with Gallup polling in November finding 42% of respondents said they would not receive one. Confidence in the vaccine has been undermined by a number of factors, including the anti-vax movement, misinformation, conspiracy theories, the Trump administration’s attempts to rush through the vaccine approval process, and mistrust in some communities stemming from a long U.S. legacy of medical racism.
Biden also stated he would protect the role of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert. Trump, who has cycled through a long series of scapegoats for the pandemic while ignoring the advice of federal scientists, threatened to fire Fauci before the elections.
“I asked him to stay on the exact same role he’s had for the past several presidents, and I asked him to be a chief medical adviser for me as well, and be part of the Covid team,” Biden told CNN.
“When Dr. Fauci says we have a vaccine that is safe, that’s the moment in which I will stand before the public and say that,” Biden said. “People have lost faith in the ability of the vaccine to work. Already the numbers are really staggeringly low, and it matters what the president and vice president do.”
The president-elect also stated he hopes Congress moves to provide additional funding for the vaccine rollout, which will require the establishment of an extensive nationwide logistics network.
“It’s one thing to get the vaccine delivered—in cases, some frozen, some not—and another thing to get the vaccine to move from the case to a vaccination in someone’s arm,” Biden added. “That’s the really complicated piece... That’s why we’re continuing to hope that the Senate does something and responds to the immediate need to provide dollars... It’s going to cost literally billions of dollars to get this done. We can keep schools open. We can keep businesses open. But you have to be able to get the vaccine distributed.”