Donald Trump has said he will not consider a national mandate requiring people to wear masks to combat the spread of coronavirus.
Asked in an interview on Fox News to be broadcast on Sunday if he would consider the move, the US president said: “No, I want people to have a certain freedom, and I don’t believe in that.”
It comes nearly a week after Mr Trump was seen wearing a mask at a military hospital in Washington after previously appearing reluctant to endorse their use.
Public health experts pleaded with people to cover their mouths and noses as Americans remained divided over mask mandates on Friday.
States and localities have been choosing conflicting strategies in the face of surging coronavirus cases.
Top infectious disease doctor Anthony Fauci said he “would urge the leaders – the local political leaders in states and cities and towns – to be as forceful as possible in getting your citizenry to wear masks”.
Governor Brian Kemp in the state of Georgia sued Atlanta’s mayor to prevent her from mandating masks.
Mr Kemp, a Republican and Trump supporter, urged all Georgians to wear masks for at least four weeks but said mandates were unenforceable and suggested they would hobble the economy.
Atlanta’s Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who has tested positive for the coronavirus, told CNN on Friday: “Brian Kemp does the bidding of President Trump.
“Over 130,000 people in our state have tested positive for COVID-19… and this governor is taking taxpayer money to sue me personally.”
Louis Charles, 68, of Atlanta, sided with the mayor on Friday as he wore a mask, all alone, sorting through his mail outside a post office.
Mr Charles said: “It’s wrong.
“The mayor is trying to help people. This is a pandemic. How much worse does he want it?”
Oklahoma City’s council voted in favour of an indoor mask requirement in the absence of a statewide face-covering mandate.
Republican Mayor David Holt said: “This ordinance is our best chance right now to protect our healthcare system from collapse.”
Mask defiance has touched a nerve among medical professionals in the US.
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More than 1,200 of them, including 161 nurses, have died from the coronavirus in the US, according to the National Nurses United union.
Sharon Taylor, 48, a cardiothoracic nurse in Atlanta, said: “Everybody saying that (wearing a mask) is a violation of their freedom – no, it’s not because a seatbelt is mandated and that’s to save your life.”
The US has been averaging about 60,000 coronavirus cases a day in July with cases rising in 41 states on Friday, based on a Reuters analysis of cases over the past two weeks compared with the prior two weeks.
Deaths rose in 19 states, according to the analysis.
Texas and Arkansas reported a record number of deaths on Friday as Kansas, Ohio, North Dakota and Puerto Rico reported record case numbers.