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Democratic senators want mask-wearing mandate included in negotiated COVID-19 relief package

"Making this mask-wearing mandate a part of that pandemic relief is an imperative; it's a moral imperative," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said at the news conference.

Updated: December 4, 2020 - 6:07pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) want to see a "mask-wearing mandate" as part of the next coronavirus relief package that Congress passes.

"Our goal is going to be, you know, to work towards including it inside of the coronavirus relief package," Markey said during a news conference on Friday about the Encouraging Masks for All Act. "We think this is kind of common sense."

Congressional leaders and the White House are currently negotiating another coronavirus relief bill.

"Making this mask-wearing mandate a part of that pandemic relief is an imperative; it's a moral imperative," Blumenthal said at the news conference.

"And frankly, a political imperative," he added, "because the solution to this pandemic requires a comprehensive strategy, including mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand-washing, even as we move into a stage in addressing the pandemic that will enable more and more people to have vaccine. But this pandemic relief package is a good down payment. It's a next step, and the mask-wearing mandate should be a part of it."

According to Markey's office, the Encouraging Masks for All Act would "encourage states to require the use of face masks in all public spaces and outside when one cannot maintain social distance."

The bill, which requires mask-wearing on federal property, includes an additional $5 billion for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund that would be made available to the states that "implement masking requirements." 

It also includes $75 million for "grants to states for promotion of universal mask wearing."

The senators were asked for their response to Americans who argue that it's their constitutional right not to wear a mask.

"We do certain things with public safety, and people agree to do those things in order to participate in our society," said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO.

"So we have rules of the road for driving, for example, and people have to follow those requirements, including wearing a seatbelt, including not talking on your cell phone while you're driving," she said.

Blumenthal agreed with Nelson's assessment on public safety and constitutional rights related to the pandemic.

"In light of the Supreme Court's recent ruling on the constitutional freedom to attend church services, I think that ruling was in error with all due respect," he said.

"But the attending of worship or religious services, where there is a constitutional right to practice religion, is completely different from a public safety measure that applies to public transportation or public facilities, federal premises," he added. "There is no constitutional right to defy a public safety order in the midst of a pandemic. Zero constitutional right."

Markey and Blumenthal said there is no expiration date for the mask-wearing requirements in their legislation.

"I don't think there is any because, frankly, we're going to be in this pandemic for a while," Blumenthal said. "We don't know exactly how long."