HHS Secretary Alex Azar recommends mask use, but not national mandate

As the debate over a national mask mandate continues, Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, pushed back against criticism that the White House has been delivering mixed messages on the use of face coverings.

“Ever since the President put out his reopening guidelines back in April… we recommended wearing face coverings when you can’t social distance, and that has been consistent throughout all of our public health messaging,” Azar told FOX 11’s Elex Michaelson during an exclusive interview on The Issue Is.

Michaelson pressed Azar on the lack of enforcement of that policy at President Trump’s June 20 Tulsa rally and July 3 Mount Rushmore speech, where many attendees did not wear masks or properly social distance.

“It depends on the circumstances in any individual community and the amount of community spread of disease,” Azar responded, 

Still, Azar, who led the White House Coronavirus Task Force from its inception in January through February 26, when Vice President Mike Pence took over, added that given the rise in asymptomatic cases, Americans would be best served to act as if they have the disease, wearing masks to prevent further spread.

“That’s why we ask people to wear face coverings, practice that social distancing, good personal hygiene, and stay out of settings where you’re not going to be able to do that,” he continued. “Those simple measures allow us to be back at work, be back at school, be reconnected to health care, get back to worship, but it depends on us, acting responsibly as individuals.”

Listen to the Issue Is Podcast Extra with Secretary Azar 

With that directive in mind, Michaelson asked Azar why the White House wouldn’t just consider a national mask mandate.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 07: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar wears a face mask during a meeting with students, teachers and administrators about how to safely re-open schools during the novel coronavirus pandemic in the East Room at the Wh

“We’re a very geographically diverse country,” Azar said, citing the differing impact of the pandemic on urban Los Angeles versus rural communities in Montana as a reason to follow the guidance of governors and local officials as opposed to a one-size-fits-all response.

As of August 5, Los Angeles County has seen some 196K positive cases of COVID-19, and nearly 5,000 deaths. Yellowstone, Montana’s most infected county, has experienced 1,144 confirmed cases, resulting in 27 deaths.

In a wide-ranging interview on The Issue Is, Azar also discussed the latest on the vaccine trial front, as well as his recently announced trip to Taiwan, which has already led Chinese officials to claim the US is “endangering peace.”

The Issue Is is California's only statewide political show. Watch FOX 11 Los Angeles Fridays at 10:30PM and Sundays at 9:30AM. For more showtimes and information, go to TheIssueIsShow.com.