To help fight the spread of coronavirus, United Food and Commercial Workers International (UFCW) has partnered with more than 100 health experts in calling for public mask mandates in all 50 states.
UFCW and the coalition of health experts — including from the World Economic Forum; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Harvard, Yale and Stanford universities; and the National Academy of Sciences, among other organizations — ran a full-page advertisement in the Sunday New York Times print edition that asked governors, congressional lawmakers and the Trump administration to immediately require face coverings in public nationwide.
The move came as the United States passed the 3 million mark in total COVID-19 cases. As of July 13, the U.S. had nearly 3.31 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 135,219 deaths from the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University.
UFCW noted that many states still don’t require people to wear face coverings in public. According to published reports, 25 states and the District of Columbia have face mask mandates, though some — such as Texas and Ohio — are limited to counties where the incidence of confirmed COVID-19 cases exceeds government thresholds. Similarly, Hawaii’s mask mandate applies to employees and customers at businesses.
More than 40 states are now seeing a rise in daily coronavirus cases. Of 14 states with increases of over 50% versus two weeks ago, nine — Idaho, Tennessee, Alabama, Oklahoma, Georgia, Wisconsin, Florida, Minnesota and Iowa — haven’t mandated face coverings in public. And of the top 10 states in total COVID-19 cases, only Arizona, Florida and Georgia don’t have state mandates for face coverings in public. Florida also ranks ninth in state coronavirus deaths.
“As COVID-19 spikes across the country continue to put America’s frontline workers at risk, it is time for governors, members of Congress and the Trump administration to step up and make public mask mandates the law in all 50 states,” UFCW International President Marc Perrone said in a statement. “In every grocery store in America, frontline workers are continuing to put themselves in harm’s way to make sure our families have the food we need. Without immediate action, these brave workers will continue to get sick and die. The science is clear: Masks are the most powerful tool we have to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep both workers and shoppers safe.”
The New York Times ad includes an open letter signed by the health experts and organizations. The ad bears the headline, “Over 100 Prominent Health Experts Call For Universal Mask Requirements,” with a subhead that says, “Scientific evidence is strong that mask use can help save lives, restore jobs and slow the pandemic.”
The ad also says an international cross-disciplinary review of the scientific research by 19 experts and other recent research shows that people are most infectious in the initial period of infection, when it is common to have few or no symptoms; cloth masks obstruct a high portion of the droplets from the mouth and nose that spread the virus; non-medical masks have been effective in reducing transmission of coronavirus; places and time periods where mask use is required or widespread have been shown to substantially lower community transmission; and public mask wearing is most effective at stopping spread of the virus when the vast majority of the public uses masks.
“Research suggests that over 200,000 American COVID-19 cases have already been averted thanks to the mask requirements covering much of the U.S., and it is estimated that requirements in the rest of the country could add over $1 trillion to the U.S. GDP,” according to Jeremy Howard, a Distinguished Research Scientist at the University of San Francisco, who was a co-organizing signatory to the ad letter.
The ad also notes that laws “appear to be highly effective” at raising use of face masks in public and slowing or stopping the spread of COVID-19, and that people don’t need medical-grade masks because any face covering — including a piece of cloth, a scarf, bandana, T-shirt or paper towel — can be effective.
For more information on the benefits of face masks, the ad refers people to the masks4all.co website. Research on the site showed that in states where face coverings are mandatory in public saw a 25% reduction in new COVID-19 cases from early to late June, while states where masks are required in certain businesses and by their customers saw a 12% reduction in cases. Meanwhile, states where face coverings are recommended but not required experienced an 84% rise in new coronavirus cases, and states only requiring masks for employees of certain businesses saw new cases climb 70%.
“With governors in the majority of states refusing to make masks mandatory, millions of Americans are needlessly being put in danger every day,” Perrone added. “It’s time for elected leaders to pull their heads out of the sand and make masks mandatory in all 50 states to protect these brave workers and the millions of families they serve.”
In late June, UFCW reported that at least 82 grocery store workers died from COVID-19 and 11,507 were infected or exposed to the virus in the first 100 days of the outbreak. UFCW represents 1.3 million employees in grocery, meatpacking, food processing, retail, health care and other industries in the U.S. and Canada. Among the union’s overall membership, 238 workers died and nearly 29,000 were infected or exposed during the pandemic’s first 100 days, UFCW said.
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