US President Joe Biden appeared to be the only world leader to wear a mask during a virtual climate summit hosted by the White House.
Among the leaders who could be seen maskless at the call were Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and EU leaders Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel.
Mr Biden opened the proceedings of Thursday’s two-day summit by unveiling a new pledge to cut U.S. emissions in half by 2030. Extinction Rebellion activists, however, were unfazed by his “bull ****” plans to dump cow dung near the White House in protest.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates thanked Mr. Biden during the summit “for restoring America’s leadership on climate change”.
“This is a promising moment. Climate activists and young people in particular bring amazing energy and attention to this issue. They are right to call for action, ”said Gates.
Mr Biden urged Americans to wear masks to contain the spread of Covid-19 and launched a 100-day mask challenge when he took office. He dutifully wore masks when performing in public and signed an ordinance on his first day at the White House mandating the wearing of masks on federal properties.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, more than 100 countries had issued nationwide mask mandates by August 2020. The US was not one of those countries, as a CNN fact-check in November 2020 found: “There does not appear to be any legal authority that would allow a US president to issue a nationwide mask mandate.”
The first countries to issue national mask mandates as the pandemic accelerated last spring were Vietnam and the Czech Republic.
Former CDC director Robert Redfield called masks “one of the most powerful weapons we need to slow and stop the spread of the virus”. But the President Dr. Redfield, under whom Donald Trump served, repeatedly mocked masks and long refused to wear one.
Mr Trump wore a mask for the first time in July 2020, but although the president himself was infected with the virus in early October, many of his supporters remained skeptical about wearing face covers.
Research is increasingly showing that the risk of transmitting Covid-19 outdoors is very low.
CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told NBC on Thursday: “We will be looking at the issue of external masking, but also in relation to the fact that we still have people dying from Covid-19.”
Dr. Ashish Jha of Brown University School of Public Health told the point of sale, “We know that the virus spreads largely indoors and very little is transmitted outdoors, except in certain circumstances.
“At this point in the pandemic, where more than half of Americans are vaccinated, it’s pretty reasonable to think about pulling outside mask mandates.”
Dr. Jha said masks are still necessary at large outdoor gatherings such as rallies or sporting events, but that “it probably doesn’t require everyone walking down the street to wear one”.