Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Tuesday implored Americans, and young Americans in particular, to wear masks as lawmakers and public health officials increasingly seek to break down partisan barriers about the use of face coverings.
Adams specifically sought to address arguments among some conservatives that requiring masks is an infringement on personal freedoms and civil liberties, arguing that wearing a mask will actually restore freedoms more quickly amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Wear a face covering when you go out in public. It is not an inconvenience. It is not a suppression of your freedom. It actually is a vehicle to achieve our goals,” Adams said during a briefing with members of the White House coronavirus task force.
“It adds to your convenience and your freedom because it allows us to open up more places, and it allows those places to stay open,” he added, holding up his own mask. “This mask, this face covering, actually is an instrument of freedom for Americans if we all use it.”
Adams singled out younger Americans, who have contributed to increasing case numbers in Florida, Texas and Arizona, among other states, urging them to use masks even if they feel they are not at risk for serious illness if they contract the coronavirus.
The surgeon general reasoned that a return to normalcy and activities young people enjoy were at stake.
“If you want the return of college football this year, wear a face covering,” he said. “If you want a chance at prom next spring, wear a face covering. … If you want to go on spring break next March, next April, wear a face covering.”
Adams’s message came in stark contrast to that of President Trump, who has been reluctant to wear a mask in public and has at times derided those who do wear masks.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who has also generally avoided wearing a mask in public, said Trump has no problem with those who choose to wear masks but has repeatedly noted that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance recommends but does not require the use of face coverings.
Numerous Republican lawmakers have in recent days made clear their desire to see all Americans embrace the use of face coverings, which public health experts have said is one of the best ways to cut down on transmission of the coronavirus.
Vice President Pence, who has worn a mask when traveling and in situations where he is unable to practice social distancing, was asked Tuesday about the mixed messaging from the president on masks ahead of the holiday weekend.
Pence mentioned the time Trump wore a mask behind the scenes at a Ford factory as evidence the president has worn a face covering but said the administration will continue to defer to governors and local officials to set policy on whether face coverings are required.
“I think the success that we have had from early in the coronavirus is we have followed the model that we described from early on, which is to have a national response that was federally supported, state managed and locally executed,” he said.