"If we all rigorously did this, we could really bring this outbreak back to where it needs to be," Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday in a livestream interview with the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
As of this week, more than 20 states require people to wear masks as coronavirus-related hospitalizations near an all-time high and 25 states reported increases in COVID-19 deaths.
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In a press release urging Americans to wear masks, Redfield asserted that the country is "not defenseless against COVID-19." The release pointed to a case study in Missouri, where two infected stylists exposed dozens to the virus at a hair salon. Investigators found that employees and patrons all wore cloth face coverings, and none of the stylists' 139 clients or secondary contacts became ill.
The CDC has been consistent about recommending people cover their mouth and nose when around others to help reduce the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. But mask mandates have been highly politicized by President Donald Trump and many of his ardent supporters.
In Texas, for example, some sheriffs have said they won't enforce Gov. Greg Abbott's orders.
The CDC director stressed that wearing a mask is "not a political issue -- it is a public health issue," calling it a "personal responsibility" for everyone.
"I'm glad to see the president wear a mask this week, and the vice president," Redfield said. "We need them to set the example."
President Donald Trump wore a mask for the first time in public over the weekend on a visit to Walter Reed Medical Center.
The Associated Press and ABC News contributed to this report.