President-elect Joe Biden on Monday urged Americans to wear a mask to help the country bring the coronavirus pandemic under control, to save lives and to enable communities to reopen schools and businesses.

“It doesn’t matter who you voted for, where you stood before election day. It doesn’t matter your party or your point of view,” he said. “We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months.”

Biden’s comments come as the coronavirus is surging across the country. Epidemiologists and medical experts are warning that the worst days of the pandemic are still ahead. The country reported more than 105,900 new cases on Sunday, bringing the seven-day average up over 108,700, an increase of more than 33% compared with a week ago, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

“Please, I implore you, wear a mask,” Biden said. “Do it for yourself. Do it for your neighbor. A mask is not a political statement, but it is a good way to start pulling the country together.”

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks to reporters about efforts to confront the coronavirus diisease (COVID-19) pandemic after meeting with members of his “Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board” in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 9, 2020.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

Biden’s remarks stand in stark contrast to that of President Donald Trump, who resisted wearing a mask in public for months at the start of the pandemic.

Top health officials, including Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have said masks are one of the best ways currently available to control the spread of the virus. But the wearing of masks has become a political flashpoint across much of the U.S., with debate raging over local and state mandates to wear a mask in public.

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“I want to be very clear: The goal of mask wearing is not to make your life less comfortable, or to take something away from you,” Biden said Monday. “It is to give something back to all of us, a normal life.”

Biden also said he will ramp up the availability of rapid diagnostic testing across the country. The Trump administration has substantially increased testing since the beginning of the outbreak, but some public health specialists say the administration should have invested more in testing. Proponents of more widespread testing say that it helps identify infectious people, who can then quarantine and cut off chains of transmission before they balloon into outbreaks.

In addition to testing, Biden said he is “building a corps of contact tracers who will track and curb this disease.”

Contact tracing is the process whereby trained personnel contact people who have tested positive for the virus and identify others who might have been exposed and infected. It’s long been used to contain infectious diseases like tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases, but it’s never been implemented on the scale demanded by the pandemic.

World Health Organization officials have repeatedly called on countries to scale up their contact-tracing infrastructure along with the ability to test broadly for the coronavirus.

Infectious disease specialists from Johns Hopkins University and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials proposed a plan in early April to ramp up a national test and trace effort. It would require a workforce of 100,000 people, the proposal said, and cost $3.6 billion. 

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