Markey introduces national mask mandate bill

  • U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., speaks to supporters during a campaign stop on Election Day, Nov. 3, in Boston. AP FILE Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/27/2020 8:40:49 AM

NORTHAMPTON — When U.S. Sen. Ed Markey visited the Gazette’s editorial board in August, he emphasized the urgency of getting the COVID-19 pandemic under control, depoliticizing public health and paying attention to science.

So, the Gazette asked, what was he going to do about it? Was he aware of any legislative proposals for a national mask mandate or working on any such bill?

“It’s a good question, and in fact, you know what? I think you’re right,” Markey said at the time. “We’re going to introduce a bill requiring a national … I’m sitting here and I’m saying, ‘You’re so right, it should be a national requirement, I should introduce the legislation to make that a national requirement.’ It’s a position I’ve taken, but I haven’t introduced it yet.”

Now, three months later, Markey and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., have filed a bill that would do just that.

The two announced the Encouraging Masks for All Act on Wednesday. The bill would provide $5 billion to the federal Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, which states can draw from to implement masking requirements. Another $75 million would be authorized for grants to states promoting universal mask wearing. The legislation also would mandate mask use on federal property.

In a press release, Markey said that face coverings are an essential public health tool to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As President-elect Biden recognizes, we need to use every technique available to us to encourage mask use, from clear communication of the need for masks, to providing masks to those who need them, to leading by example, and even to mandating mask use nationwide,” Markey said. “Our legislation would move us closer to the goal of ensuring universal mask adoption during these dangerous winter months. It would also ensure that essential workers in transit, health care, and retail settings all over the country are protected with face masks. Mask up!”

It’s too early to say if the bill will pass. The Republican-led U.S. Senate broke for recess on Monday, having failed to reach an agreement on a coronavirus relief bill. And with the balance of power in the Senate hanging on two runoff elections in Georgia, it is still uncertain which party will control the body going forward.

After the bill was announced, Markey spokeswoman Giselle Barry wrote to the Gazette to note that the legislation was a follow-up to the commitment Markey made to the paper’s editorial board.

In a statement, Gazette Editor-in-chief Brooke Hauser said that she’s not surprised Markey filed a mask mandate bill, but appreciates his acknowledging that he first made that commitment while speaking to the Gazette’s editorial board. She noted that his answer came after the board pressed him on how he’d handle enforcement of public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“The answer, apparently, is with this proposed legislation, which is notable for its focus on financially rewarding states’ public health and safety compliance efforts rather than the current system of patchwork mandates and punitive measures,” Hauser said. “An editorial board’s job is to ask pointed questions, and sometimes those questions get results.”

Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has said that face masks are the country’s “most powerful public health tool,” and Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease official, has come out in support of a national mask mandate. President-elect Joe Biden also has supported a national mask mandate, promising to work with state officials to protect public health.

Still, some governors have continued to resist pressure to implement a mask mandate, and President Donald Trump has downplayed the importance of mask wearing.

On Tuesday, more than 2,200 people died of COVID-19 in the United States, representing the highest daily death toll since May 6. The seven-day average for new cases topped 175,000 for the first time.

Ahead of Thanksgiving, experts are warning that the virus may spread further as people travel for the holiday, despite warnings from public health officials. Over the past weekend, as many as 3 million people passed through U.S. airports — the biggest crowds since mid-March.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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