U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams expressed concerns about a discussed national mandate requiring the use of face coverings, in part due to a lack of enforcement mechanisms and concerns of over-policing in the wake of nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
"Someone has to explain to me how a nationwide mask mandate would actually function," Adams told a local Fox affiliate in an interview published Wednesday. "The authority to do that lies at the state and local level.
"We aren't going to send in the National Guard or the Army to enforce a national mandate," he added in his interview with Fox 5 in Washington, D.C. "We don't have an enforcement mechanism to do that, number one.
"Number two, in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, when we have people being killed for handing out single cigarettes or for falling asleep in a fast food line, I really worry about over-policing and having a situation where you're giving people one more reason to arrest a Black man."
Adams was making reference to the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner, who was accused of selling loose cigarettes on the street, and the 2020 death of Rayshard Brooks, who was killed by Atlanta police in a Wendy’s parking lot.
Adams said he supports face masks mandates, but they need to happen at the local and state level.
"I think we have to help educate people. We've got to make sure that the enforcement mechanism is something that's not going to be overly onerous,” Adams continued. "People are more likely to cooperate if they know why they're doing it and if they actually know how they're going to benefit.”
A number of governors have required residents to wear face masks as coronavirus cases spike in some areas of the country, but Democrats have pushed for a federal mandate on face masks. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden said in late June he would use federal power to require all Americans to wear a face mask in public.
“The one thing we do know, these masks make a gigantic difference. I would insist that everybody in public be wearing that mask,” Biden said. “Anyone to reopen, it would have to make sure that they walked into a business that had masks.”
The interviewer asked if he would use “federal leverage” to mandate mask-wearing.
“Yes, I would from an executive standpoint, yes I would,” Biden said.
“I would do everything possible to make it required the people had to wear masks in public,” he added.
The Trump administration has repeatedly said it would not be requiring face masks in all 50 states.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said in an interview with “Fox & Friends” Monday a national mask mandate is “not in order.”
“Well, it’s certainly a state-to-state issue,” Meadows said of a mask mandate. “As we look across the country, obviously the narrative is the COVID cases are rising, but testing is rising exponentially. We’ve now tested almost 10 percent of our country.”
“And yet when we look at masks and the wearing of masks, that's done on a location basis, when you can’t have social distancing, but certainly a national mandate is not in order,” he continued. “We’re allowing governors and mayors to weigh in on that.”
When asked why President Trump will not require face masks at his New Hampshire rally on Saturday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany touted CDC guidelines which list face coverings as “recommended but not required.”