September 27, 2020

Gretchen Whitmer: Mask Up, America

LANSING, Mich. — My state was hit hard by Covid-19. For many weeks, we had the nation’s third-highest number of deaths despite having only the 10th-largest population. As a result, we took some of the most aggressive measures in the country in the fight against the disease, and our hard work paid off. Our actions saved thousands of lives.

We are now working around the clock to restart our economy in a way that protects workers, businesses and families. But as people in Michigan and across the country begin to return to work, cases are rising again. To slow the rise and further protect our families from this virus, we need the Trump administration to issue a federal mask mandate.

When more Americans wear a mask in public, we can save lives and put ourselves in a better position to send our children back to school in the fall.

Governors of both parties in at least half of the states have issued mask orders to protect their residents. Kay Ivey in Alabama just required everyone to wear a mask in indoor spaces open to the public and outdoor public spaces where 10 or more people are gathered. In Michigan, I issued a similar order that also requires any business that is open to the public to deny entry to people who refuse to wear a face covering, with limited exceptions.

Leaders across the country are telling families to mask up because the data shows it is the best way to protect ourselves and one another from Covid-19. Wearing a mask has been proven to reduce the chance of spreading Covid-19 by about 70 percent. Modeling from the University of Washington indicates that more than 40,000 lives would be spared nationwide if 95 percent of the population wore a mask while in public.

Wearing a mask can also reduce the harsh economic impact the coronavirus has had on our country. A study conducted by Goldman Sachs concluded that a federal mask mandate could substitute for lockdowns that could cause a 5 percent drop in G.D.P. And if Americans do not mask up in public, cases could rise and we could be forced to close down more of our businesses — including the auto manufacturing plants that employ thousands of Michigan workers.

Major retailers have also recognized the importance of wearing masks. Meijer, Wal-Mart and Kroger all adopted mask requirements for their stores nationwide, and the National Retail Federation has called on all retailers to do the same. I am glad to see stores like these put the safety of their employees and customers first. The president should follow their lead and issue a federal mandate that requires masks in businesses across the country.

The heroes on the front lines of this crisis go for hours without taking their masks off every day. Doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians and child care and grocery store workers wear them when they are on the job and putting their own lives on the line to protect us. We owe it to them to wear our masks when we go to the grocery store.

Parents, students and teachers across the country are constantly wondering whether schools will reopen for in-person learning in the fall. The president has said repeatedly that he thinks our kids should go back to school.

But I am not sending kids and our education work force into our schools unless it is safe to do so. And the most effective way we can protect our students and the millions of dedicated educators across the country is to ensure we all mask up now. This can be accomplished best through a federal mandate.

Wearing a mask is not a political statement; it is about protecting our loved ones from the spread of this deadly virus. I know the president has begun to understand that — he wore a mask on his visit to the Walter Reed military hospital this month. And on Monday, he tweeted that “it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance.”

I applaud his statement, and urge him to back it up by issuing a nationwide mask mandate like Michigan’s, requiring masks on public transport, indoors, or outdoors when a distance of six feet cannot be maintained. It allows exemptions for small children, when eating or drinking, communicating with a hearing-impaired person, officiating at a religious service and for those engaged in a public safety role. The president has the chance to save tens of thousands of lives. I am hopeful that he will seize this opportunity.

In the meantime, be smart, be safe and mask up, America.