Face masks becoming partisan issue

Yueqi Yang Bloomberg News (TNS)
Dr. Francis Collins,, left, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), testify during a US Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the plan to research, manufacture and distribute a coronavirus vaccine on July 2, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

It's "bizarre" that mask-wearing in the U.S. has become so partisan and the "divide between different political perspectives" is making it harder to curb the coronavirus, the director of the National Institutes of Health said.

Speaking on NBC News's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, NIH chief Francis Collins said he didn't want anybody to think that mask-wearing is "something optional" as the nation attempts to tamp down the COVID-19 outbreak running at record levels.

"Imagine you were an alien coming to the planet Earth and looking around," Collins said. "You would be totally astounded, puzzled, amazed. ... How could it be that something as basic as a public health action, that we have very strong evidence can help, seems to attach to people's political party?"

Opinion polls have shown that many more Democrats than Republicans say masks should be worn in public places most or all of the time.

Scott Gottlieb, former U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner, echoed the plea to wear face masks on CBS News's "Face the Nation," adding it might be "wishful thinking" that everyone is going to mask up.

"There's a hardened percentage of the population that just feels that the masks are some infringement on their liberty," Gottlieb said. The non-compliance makes it difficult to get virus spread fully under control, he said.

President Donald Trump said on a "Fox News Sunday" interview that he wouldn't issue a nationwide mask order as a matter of "freedom."

Collins said nobody at the White House has asked him to demote or fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, the once ubiquitous figure in coronavirus task force briefings who hasn't spoken publicly at the White House since late April.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases that Fauci has led since 1984 is part of the Bethesda, Maryland, based NIH.

Trump, in his pre-taped comments on Fox, called Fauci "little bit of an alarmist" but that the two men have a "great relationship."

More states are imposing mandatory mask orders as virus cases in the U.S. continue to surge. There are still holdouts, such as Mississippi, whose governor, Republican Tate Reeves, said he'd tailor the requirement to local conditions. Thirteen of 82 counties in Mississippi currently have a mask mandate, Reeves said Sunday on CNN.