Politicization of Masks Likely Lead to Death of Tens of Thousands of Americans, NIH Director Says

National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins slams misinformation surrounding COVID and how 'mask wearing became a statement about your political party'

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Demonstrators protest lockdown restriction in Michigan in May.
Demonstrators protest lockdown restriction in Michigan in May. Credit: Joel Marklund / BILDBYRÅN via Reuters

The politicization of masks during the COVID pandemic likely lead to the deaths of “tens of thousands of Americans,” National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins said in an interview with Axios.

Collins discussed on Axios on HBO how misinformation became a major obstacle in the fight against coronavirus."The evidence was pretty compelling by last March or April that uniform wearing of masks would reduce transmission of this disease. And yet, with a variety of messages through a variety of sources, mask wearing became a statement about your political party or an invasion of your personal freedom.” Collins said.

"A mask is nothing more than a life-saving medical device, and yet it got categorized in all sorts of other ways that were not factual, not scientific, and frankly dangerous. And I think you could make a case that tens of thousands of people died as a result,” he added.

As of Sunday, the U.S. stood at the brink of a once-unthinkable tally: 500,000 people lost to the coronavirus.

A year into the pandemic, the running total of lives lost was about 498,000 — roughly the population of Kansas City, Missouri, and just shy of the size of Atlanta. The figure compiled by Johns Hopkins University surpasses the number of people who died in 2019 of chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, flu and pneumonia combined.

“It’s nothing like we have ever been through in the last 102 years, since the 1918 influenza pandemic,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on CNN's “State of the Union.”

The U.S. virus death toll reached 400,000 on January 19 in the waning hours in office for President Donald Trump, whose handling of the crisis was judged by public health experts to be a singular failure.

The nation could pass this next grim milestone on Monday. President Joe Biden will mark the U.S. crossing 500,000 lives lost from COVID-19 with a moment of silence and candle lighting ceremony at the White House.

Biden will deliver remarks at sunset to honor the dead, the White House said. He's expected to be joined by first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff.

The first known deaths from the virus in the U.S. happened in early February 2020, both of them in Santa Clara County, California. It took four months to reach the first 100,000 dead. The toll hit 200,000 deaths in September and 300,000 in December. Then it took just over a month to go from 300,000 to 400,000 and about two months to climb from 400,000 to the brink of 500,000.

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