US divided over mask wearing and schools reopening as COVID-19 cases surge

US divided over mask wearing and schools reopening as COVID-19 cases surge

Man wearing a gas mask at Atlanta, Georgia
A man wears a gas mask as he travels through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, on Apr 23, 2020. (Photo: AFP/CHANDAN KHANNA)

WASHINGTON: Divided Americans dug further into debates over mask mandates and schools reopening on Friday (Jul 17), with states and localities choosing conflicting strategies in the face of surging coronavirus cases.

In the state of Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp sued Atlanta's mayor to prevent her from mandating masks, while Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, leader of the country's third largest school district, unveiled a plan to offer both in-person and remote instruction over the objection of the teachers' union.

With school set to resume in a few weeks, school districts across the country have announced a variety of plans to restart teaching amid the pandemic.

Amid the patchwork of policies, the United States reported a daily global record of more than 77,000 new infections on Thursday, raising the total to more than 3.5 million cases, with nearly 140,000 deaths.

READ: US coronavirus cases shatter records and rise by 77,000 in single day

READ: More US states mandate masks to staunch COVID-19 pandemic

Through it all, President Donald Trump has urged a return to normal, stressing the importance of reigniting the economy while sometimes rejecting the advice of public health advisers.

One nurse on the front lines begged schools not to call students back to class and decried a lack of personal protective equipment at her hospital, where she said at least six of her co-workers had tested positive for COVID-19.

"I took an oath as a nurse to do no harm. Every time I show up to work with a lack of personal protective equipment, I am doing harm because I am potentially exposing a patient to COVID," said Marissa Lee, a labor and delivery nurse at Osceola Regional Medical Center in Florida, where she said at least two expectant mothers on her floor were COVID-positive.

More than 1,200 medical professionals, including 161 nurses, have died from the coronavirus in the United States, according to the National Nurses United union.

Lee's concerns were echoed by the Chicago Teachers Union, which says classroom instruction is unsafe and classes should be taught remotely.

"There is no safe way to reopen anything during a pandemic," union president Jesse Sharkey said in a statement.

READ: US announces borders with Mexico, Canada to stay shut until Aug 20

READ: US prepares push to reduce 'unnecessary' COVID-19 testing: Official

PLEA OF HEALTH EXPERTS

Public health experts have pleaded with politicians and the public to cover their faces to help stop the spread of infection amid a wider cultural divide in the United States.

Trump and his followers have resisted a full-throated endorsement of masks and have been calling for a return to normal economic activity following pandemic-induced shutdowns.

Videos on social media show people across the country irately declaring their right to shop or congregate in public without masks, with many disputing evidence that masks are effective.

Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci on Friday said he "would urge the leaders - the local political leaders in states and cities and towns - to be as forceful as possible in getting your citizenry to wear masks."

Kemp, a fellow Republican and supporter of President Donald Trump, issued an executive order on Wednesday suspending local regulations that require masks, and on Thursday sued the city of Atlanta to stop it from enforcing its mask mandate.

The governor said the lawsuit was filed on behalf of business owners and their employees who would be affected by what he called "disastrous policies," contending that Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' policy would "shutter businesses and undermine economic growth."

The Georgia conflict played out amid a wider cultural divide in the United States, in which public health experts have pleaded with politicians and the public to cover their faces to help stop the spread of infection.

Trump and his followers have resisted a full-throated endorsement of masks and have been calling for a return to normal economic activity following pandemic-induced shutdowns.

Videos on social media show people across the country irately declaring their right to shop or congregate in public without masks, with many disputing evidence that masks are effective.

Kemp's lawsuit names as a defendant the Atlanta mayor, 50, a rising star in the Democratic Party who disclosed this month that she tested positive for the coronavirus.

"Brian Kemp does the bidding of President Trump," Bottoms told CNN on Friday. "It's unfortunate because meanwhile over 130,000 people in our state have tested positive for COVID-19. Over 3,100 people have lost their lives and ... this governor is taking taxpayer money to sue me personally."

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Source: Reuters/ga

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