Infectious Diseases Society Leaders Call on Vice President Pence to Develop a Federal Mask Mandate

Aug. 6, 2020
The leaders of the Infectious Diseases Society of America have sent a letter to Vice President asking that the White House Coronavirus Task Force establish a nationwide mask mandate and launch a public education campaign

On Wednesday, August 5, the leaders of the Arlington, Virginia-based Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), which describes itself as “a community of over 12,000 physicians, scientists and public health experts who specialize in infectious diseases,” sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence in his role as chair of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, calling for the Task Force to “adopt a uniform policy about mask wearing to control the pandemic, protect the economy and allow for the safe reopening of schools.”

In the first paragraph of the letter, put in boldface type, the IDSA leaders told Vice President Pence that, “Specifically, we urge you to publicly issue a strong federal directive calling for mask requirements in all states, to launch a public education campaign about the importance of wearing masks or face coverings, and to require all individuals in the White House complex to wear a mask at all times when they are in the company of others, both for their own protection and to serve as role models for our country.”

Wednesday’s letter follows weeks of confusion and controversy around the issue of masks and face coverings, in which, at times, both President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence have made statements that have either directly contradicted the White House’s own medical and public health experts, as well as their own previous statements.

As the letter, signed by IDSA president Thomas M. File, M.D., and by Judith Feinberg, M.D., president of the IDSA-affiliated organization, the HIV Medicine Association (HIVMA), stated, “In March, the White House Coronavirus Task Force took decisive and effective action in launching the 15 Days to Slow the Spread campaign that provided strong and consistent guidance to everyone in the country on how to protect themselves, their families and their communities. As our country approaches 5 million COVID-19 cases and 160,000 deaths, unified national action is again urgently needed to save lives. As we quickly approach influenza season, we have a critical window of time to reduce the rapid spread of COVID-19 cases across the country through universal masking and physical distancing. If we fail to dramatically curtail transmission, it is likely that hospitals will become overwhelmed and lives will be lost due to a shortage of ICU beds, ventilators and other essential equipment. In addition, a significant reduction in cases will spur public confidence in the safety of our communities, greatly increasing the number of people who will feel comfortable patronizing businesses and supporting the economy.”

Among the specific recommendations in the letter:

>   “States with more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population in the previous week should ask residents to wear masks at all times, limit social gatherings to 10 people or fewer, and close bars and gyms.”

>   Strong and consistent national policy and messaging makes a difference.”

>   IDSA and HIVMA, addressing Vice President Pence, state that “[W]e encourage you to launch a public education campaign to help everyone understand the importance and effectiveness of wearing masks and the proper way to wear them.”

>   “Policies to greatly increase the use of masks are integral to a broader national strategy to control the COVID-19 pandemic, which must also include increasing testing capacity and its timeliness to bolster the impact of contact tracing.”

>   “Further,” the letter states, “we must ensure the availability of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies; continue to support the discovery, development and equitable distribution of vaccines and therapeutics; and ensure a strong public health and infectious diseases workforce.”