Trump says he's 'a believer in masks,' but stops short of national mandate in coronavirus fight

Trump's comments come just days after CDC chief urged Americans to wear masks in public

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President Trump on Sunday said that he is “a believer in masks” in the fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic, but added that he’s leaving it up to state governors to decide whether or not to implement an order requiring people to wear them in public.

Speaking during an exclusive interview on “Fox News Sunday,” the president deferred to state officials on the issue of masks when questioned by moderator Chris Wallace.

“Everybody who is saying don’t wear a mask – all of sudden everybody’s got to wear a mask, and as you know masks cause problems, too,” Trump said. “With that being said, I’m a believer in masks. I think masks are good.”

Trump added: “But I leave it up to the governors. Many of the governors are changing. They’re more mask into – they like the concept of masks, but some of them don’t agree.”

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The president’s comments come just days after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield urged Americans to wear masks in public – saying that the pandemic could be under control within four to six weeks if every American wore a mask.

“We are not defenseless against COVID-19,”  said Redfield. “Cloth face coverings are one of the most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus – particularly when used universally within a community setting. All Americans have a responsibility to protect themselves, their families and their communities.”

Trump, however, said that he doesn’t agree with Redfield’s statement, saying that the decision to wear a mask was “a certain freedom.”

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

Trump – who wore a mask for the first time in public last weekend during a trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – switched gears on his call for schools to reopen. The president has threatened to cut federal funding to public schools if states don’t reopen classrooms to in-person learning and argues that young people are less affected by COVID-19.

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“Young people have to go to school, and there’s problems when you don’t go to school, too,” Trump said. “And there’s going to be a funding problem because we’re not going to fund – when they don’t open their schools. We’re not going to fund them. We’re not going to give them money if they’re not going to school. If they don’t open.”

Wallace pushed back on Trump’s funding argument – saying that the federal government only gives 8 percent of all funds to public schools, with most of that money going to disadvantaged students and children with disabilities – before asking Trump why he wouldn’t want the federal funding to be used to make schools safer from the virus.

Trump responded by citing the example of New Jersey, which he has said before has only one death of a person under 18 from COVID-19.

“Of all of these thousands, one person below the age of 18 – in the entire state – one person and that was a person that had, I believe he said diabetes,” he said. “One person below the age of 18 died in the state of New Jersey during all of this.”

Trump added: “They had a hard time. And they’re doing very well now, so that’s it.”