Russia enacted a national mask mandate. Trump still won't do so, though it could save an estimated 63,000 lives.

Aylin Woodward
·5 min read
russia coronavirus
Police officers in face masks patrol the Red Square in Moscow, Russia, in May 2020. Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images

Global coronavirus cases have hit record daily highs.

In the last week, Russia reported an average of 16,300 new cases per day, its highest seven-day average yet. Cases there topped 17,000 for the first time ever Friday. The US, meanwhile, tallied more than 83,000 new cases on Friday — the country's highest ever.

Russia's rising cases prompted Rospotrebnadzor, the government's health and consumer rights agency, to issue a national mask mandate on Tuesday.

The new restrictions stipulate that citizens must wear masks on public transportation, including in taxis, as well as in parking garages, elevators, and any place where more than 50 people can gather, the New York Times reported. They also call for restaurants and entertainment values to close between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m..

Rospotrebnadzor head Anna Popovaza said additional lockdowns aren't on the table for now. Russia locked down for six weeks at the start of the pandemic — movements of citizens in Moscow were even monitored using a digital tracking system. President Vladimir Putin reopened manufacturing and construction businesses on May 11, and Russia's non-essential retail and restaurants returned in June

"If we do not cope with this phase, then we will talk about additional restrictions," Popovaza told Russian news agency RIA on Tuesday.

A change from Putin's previous handling of the pandemic

Russia's order is a reversal from Putin's previous approach to controlling the virus's spread; for the most part, he has left Russia's response in the hands of its 85 regional governors.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen on June 30, 2020. Alexei Druzhinin/TASS via Getty

According to Reuters, Putin said this summer that Russia's strategy was superior to the US's, despite their similarities, since Russia's federal and regional authorities worked together.

"I can't imagine someone in the government or regions saying we are not going to do what the government or president say," Putin told state TV stations in June.

He also rebuked the politicization of the pandemic in the US, saying, "It seems to me that the problem is that group — in this case party — interests, are put above those of society's as a whole, above the interests of the people."

Russia currently has the fourth-highest number of coronavirus infections worldwide: over 1.5 million. The US has nearly six times that: 8.7 million cases.

About 26,000 Russians have died from the virus, compared to 225,000 Americans, but experts suggest Russia's death toll could be higher than it has reported. 

The US has no mask mandate

A majority of US states, including Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania, have a statewide mask rule, but the US as a whole does not have a mandate in place. (Seventeen states have mask requirements in only parts of the state, while South Dakota has no rule in place at all.) 

The US has faced an uphill battle in increasing the adoption of masks. Face coverings have come to be seen by some, including President Trump, as a political statement. Protesters have rallied against mask mandates, saying they violate personal freedom.

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President Donald Trump takes off his face mask on a White House balcony in Washington, October 10, 2020. Tom Brenner/Reuters

But Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently said that the looming winter months may require mask mandates, since experts expect the virus to spread more readily as people gather indoors.

"If people are not wearing masks, then maybe we should be mandating it," Fauci said in an interview with CNN on Friday.

Universal mask wearing is a measure the US needs to "double down" on, he added, along with hand washing and social distancing.

"They sound very simple. But we're not uniformly doing that and that's one of the reasons we're seeing these surges," Fauci said.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci watches as Vice President Mike Pence speaks after leading a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing on June 26, 2020 in Washington, DC. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

Fauci didn't specify whether he was suggesting mask mandates at a national or state level, however.

If 95% of Americans wore masks, it could save 63,000 lives by March

Research has shown that face coverings can prevent coronavirus transmission and save lives.

A model from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted that the US's total death count could surpass 511,000 by the end of February — more than double the number of COVID-19 deaths the nation has seen so far.

But if 95% of the country wore masks, 63,000 of those lives might be saved, the model found.

The mostly maskless crowd waiting to get into BOK Center on June 20, 2020.
A mostly mask-less crowd waiting to get into a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20, 2020. Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images

"Expanding mask use can be one of the 'easy wins' in the United States," Christopher Murray, director of the institute, said in a recent briefing. "It can both delay the reimposition of social-distancing mandates and can save many, many lives."

Aria Bendix contributed reporting to this story.

Editor's Note: A change in the underlying data between the acceptance and publication of an October 23 study from IHME researchers detailing their latest model suggests 63,000, not 130,000, lives would be saved if 95% of Americans wore masks. The headline and text of this article have been changed to reflect that more up-to-date projection.

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