Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday state and local government leaders should be "as forceful as possible" in urging the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus, which the top infectious disease expert says is still in the first wave in the United States and has hit Americans "very severely."
Fauci said the United States needs "to get better control" over COVID-19 and masks must be a priority as the country opens up.
"I would urge the leaders -- the local, political and other leaders -- in states and cities and towns to be as forceful as possible in getting your citizenry to wear masks," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a video conference with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"...Physical distancing is the most important, but practically when you're living your life and trying to open up the country. You are going to come into contact with people. And for that reason, we know that masks are really important. And we should be using them. Everyone."
Fauci's comments come as state and local leaders have taken wildly different approaches to mask-wearing, with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp now suing Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to block her from requiring masks in her city.
Fauci, who has been subjected to a White House campaign to undermine his credibility, said he thinks pandemics like COVID-19 are going to become more "likely" because of close human and animal interactions, such as in Chinese wet markets, where wild animals can spread harmful new illnesses to humans.
While the current pandemic is still rapidly spreading with more than 3.4 million infections and nearly 137,000 deaths in the U.S., Fauci said there will be a day when America returns to normal through public health measures and scientists at work developing therapeutics and a vaccine.
"We feel cautiously optimistic that we are on the road -- as bleak as it may sound right now -- that we are on the road of getting this under control," Fauci said. "... Yes, we will get back to normal with schools, and we will ultimately get back to normal with every other aspect of our lives."
Fox News' Alexandra Rego contributed to this report.