But now that Trump is toeing this line again, he has left those around him to account for it. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows just showed how impossible that is to do in good faith.
During a brief Q&A with reporters Thursday morning, Meadows offered his own bewildering comments about why he doesn’t wear a mask. His argument basically boiled down to this: If it’s not 100 percent effective, I’m not interested.
That may seem like an uncharitable oversimplification, but it’s effectively what he said.
“If masks is the panacea for everything, that we could have everybody going back to work if they’ll just wear a mask … if that’s the way that we open back our economy and get everybody back to work, I will gladly wear my mask each and every day if that’s what makes the difference,” Meadows said. “And it doesn’t.”
Meadows added: “I think even a [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert] Redfield, a [coronavirus task force member Anthony S.] Fauci and anybody else would suggest that it is a mitigating effort, but it’s not something that is actually designed to actually make sure we don’t have the coronavirus spread.”
Meadows echoed the comments elsewhere, claiming that while masks are “good,” the science doesn’t back up the idea that masks are actually “the answer” to getting back to work or even “the best protocol for keeping people safe.”
There are several obvious problems with this.
The first is the false choice Meadows is offering: If masks aren’t a panacea, then they may not be worthwhile. But no expert has said masks would completely halt the virus; what they have said is that they slow the spread. And the White House has previously adopted a number of mitigation measures, even though they wouldn’t completely halt the virus. Why draw the line for advocacy and compliance on masks, which are notably a much simpler mitigation tool than closing down portions of the economy?
The second is that the standard Meadows is setting up here is completely nonsensical. There is literally no panacea for the coronavirus — nor will there be even when we have a vaccine. Redfield acknowledged as much in testimony Wednesday, noting that the vaccine won’t work for everyone. He said “the immunogenicity may be 70 percent, and if I don’t get an immune response, the vaccine’s not going to protect me.”
By Meadows’s standard, would taking the vaccine not necessarily be worth it either, if you have only a 70 percent shot at immunity?
That quote brings us to our third point. When Redfield gave it, he was actually propping up masks as a potentially more effective mitigation tool than a vaccine.
“I might even go so far as to say this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against covid than when I take a covid vaccine,” Redfield said, “because the immunogenicity may be 70 percent and if I don’t get an immune response the vaccine’s not going to protect me. This face mask will.”
Redfield later clarified that a vaccine will be hugely important because it’s “the thing that will get Americans back to normal everyday life.” But he said, “The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds.”
So, Meadows’s claim that Redfield would agree that masks aren’t “designed to actually make sure we don’t have the coronavirus spread” is just false. And his comment that masks aren’t a “panacea” is a straw man. Redfield has very clearly said that the mask may be our most guaranteed tool — both today and even once we get a vaccine — to combat the spread of the virus.
He even said a couple of months back that “if we could get everybody to wear a mask right now, I think in four, six, eight weeks we could bring this epidemic under control.”
It has now been nine weeks, and the White House still apparently has no interest in Redfield’s proposition.