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Trump says he won’t issue mask mandate as US infections surge to record highs

US President Donald Trump said he would not issue a national mandate that would require Americans to wear masks to stem the spread of the coronavirus in an interview excerpt broadcast on Friday.

Speaking with Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, Trump disputed the effectiveness of masks and said they infringe on peoples’ freedom. The full interview will be released on Sunday.

Trump wore a mask in public for the first time last week, finally yielding to intense pressure to set a public health example.

Wallace asked Trump: “The [Centers for Disease Control] says, if everyone wore a mask for four to six weeks, we could get this under control. Do you regret not wearing a mask in public from the start, and would you consider a national mandate that people need to wear masks?”

“No, I want people to have a certain freedom and I don’t believe in that, no, and I don’t agree with the statement that if everybody wear a mask everything disappears,” Trump said.

He said that experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, “the highly respected director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases,” had in the early days of the pandemic advised against wearing masks. Research since has overwhelmingly indicated that masks reduce the chances of virus transmission.

“Dr. Fauci said don’t wear a mask, our surgeon general — terrific guy — said don’t wear a mask. Everybody was saying don’t wear a mask, all of a sudden everybody’s got to wear a mask. And as you know, masks cause problems too. With that being said, I am a believer in masks. I think masks are good,” Trump said.

The epidemic in the US is blowing up at an exponential rate as leaders of some of the worst-hit states resist mandatory mask measures.

The US on Friday saw a record number of new coronavirus infections for the third consecutive day, with 77,638 new cases in 24 hours, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, and 927 Americans died of the virus.

The number of patients hospitalized for the virus is at its highest level since April 23, according to The COVID Tracking Project.

The US is hardest-hit country in the world in absolute terms, with 139,128 total fatalities out of 3.64 million confirmed cases.

The death rate, which plummeted in May and June, has been rising since last week. Florida, the new epicenter, posted more than 11,000 new cases and 128 deaths on Friday.

Some mayors have imposed mandatory mask orders. But in Georgia, the state’s Republican governor Brian Kemp sued Atlanta’s mayor for issuing a face covering directive.

“While we all agree wearing a mask is effective, I am confident Georgians do not need a mandate to do the right thing,” Kemp said.

His lawsuit seeks to overturn not just the mask order but Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s return to a stricter lockdown.

Bottoms, a Democrat who has herself tested positive for coronavirus, believes Kemp’s decision was political retaliation, telling CNN the suit came one day after Trump visited Atlanta when she pointed out he was breaking the law by being maskless at the airport.

Similar conflicts abound elsewhere.

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott finally ordered a statewide mask order after seeing cases surge, but he has been condemned through censure resolutions passed by multiple local Republican officials.

They accuse him of violating the party’s principles of separation of powers, free enterprise and personal responsibility, according to The Texas Tribune.

The Democratic mayor of Houston, the state’s largest city, wants to move back into lockdown but the governor refuses.

Many sheriffs — who are often elected officials — in California, North Carolina and elsewhere have said they won’t enforce mask regulations in their counties.

“Do not be a sheep,” a sheriff in the state of Washington said in late June.

The US epidemic began in the western state and cases there have started to pick up once again.

Experts believe the United States never emerged from its first wave of infections, and cases have been surging again in recent weeks, particularly across the south and west in states that pushed to lift lockdown restrictions early.

Coronavirus is meanwhile spreading to new parts of the country including Idaho, Tennessee and Mississippi.

But New York, the original US epicenter where more than 32,000 virus patients have died, moved to further ease its restrictions after bringing its outbreak under control.

Trump’s ratings have plummeted since the start of the pandemic.

Only 38 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the crisis, against 51% in March, according to a Washington Post poll published Friday.

Trump aide Kellyanne Conway said Friday the cause for the decline is because the president has stopped giving daily briefings on the virus.

“The president’s numbers were much higher when he was out there briefing everybody on a day-by-day basis about the coronavirus,” she said, adding: “I think the president should be doing that.”

The task force briefings featuring Trump were halted in late April amid mounting criticism over his exaggerated and inaccurate claims about the public health response and his penchant for pushing bogus treatments.

“We’ve really got to regroup, call a time-out,” Fauci told Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in a video chat Thursday.

“Not necessarily lock down again, but say, ‘We’ve got to do this in a more measured way,’” he added.

States enacted lockdowns in patchwork fashion, and several skipped important epidemiological checkpoints before easing stay-at-home orders, said Fauci.

Subsequently, many have been forced to pause re-opening, re-closing bars but also sometimes gyms, movie theaters, places of worship and shops.