President Donald Trump has said he would not order Americans to wear masks to contain the spread of the coronavirus, saying people should have a "certain freedom."
His comments came after Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, appealed to state and local leaders to be "as forceful as possible" in getting people to wear masks in public places.
In a 'Fox News Sunday' interview, Trump said, "I don't agree with the statement that if everybody wear a mask, everything disappears.
Commenting on the initial comments from top health officials, Trump said: Hey, Dr Fauci said don't wear a mask. Our Surgeon General, terrific guy said don't wear a mask. Everybody who is saying don't wear a mask all of sudden everybody's got to wear a mask, and as you know masks cause problems, too.
Trump, who has been seen wearing a face mask only once, said, I'm a believer in masks. I think masks are good.
But Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said social distancing, an important factor in blunting the spread of the coronavirus, can be difficult with more people going out.
"When you're living your life and trying to open up the country, you are going to come into contact with people. And for that reason, we know that masks are really important, and we should be using them everywhere," he said during a US Chamber of Commerce virtual event.
Americans are actually slowing down the re-opening the country by not wearing a mask, CNN quoted Fauci as saying during a US Chamber of Commerce event.
"If we could get more people to understand that, hopefully we'll get more people who'd be willing to wear masks," he said.
He said he would "urge the leaders -- the local political and other leaders - in states and cities and towns to be as forceful as possible in getting your citizenry to wear masks."
The country needs to concentrate on the problems at hand and not worry about a second wave, he said.
"When you're having up to 70,000 new infections ... that's something you need to focus on right now, as opposed to looking at what's going to happen in September or October," he said.
There were 77,255 new cases reported on Thursday, crossing a previous record set two days ago, according to Johns Hopkins University.