President Donald Trump wore a mask in public for the first time Saturday, more than three months after public health officials from his own administration recommended that all Americans cover their face when social distancing was not possible.
Trump’s decision to don a mask during a trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center followed several months of controversy over his reluctance to abide by public health guidelines even as novel coronavirus cases surged nationwide. Before wearing the navy-colored mask Saturday, Trump had disparaged his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, for wearing a mask and publicly downplayed the importance of face coverings.
Trump has attacked Biden on Twitter for wearing a mask and told Fox News on Thursday that Biden’s mask was the “the largest mask I think I have ever seen. It covers up a big proportion of his face.” Biden’s campaign criticized Trump on Saturday for waiting so long to wear a mask publicly.
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“Donald Trump spent months ignoring the advice of medical experts and politicizing wearing a mask, one of the most important things we can do to prevent the spread of the virus,” said Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates.
“Rather than taking responsibility and leading, he wasted four months that Americans have been making sacrifices by stoking divisions and actively discouraging people from taking a very basic step to protect each other,” Bates said. “By contrast, Joe Biden has led by example from the start and as president will make decisions informed by science to protect the American people and defeat the virus.”
As health officials in the Trump administration have tried to persuade Americans to wear masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Trump has repeatedly focused on the aesthetics of face coverings and social distancing — adding to the politicization of the issue.
“I just don’t want to wear one myself,” Trump said in early April when asked if he’d wear a mask. “It’s a recommendation; they recommend it. I’m feeling good. I just don’t want to be doing — I don’t know, somehow sitting in the Oval Office. . . . I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know. Somehow, I don’t see it for myself. I just — I just don’t.”
After he toured a factory in Michigan in May, Trump told reporters that he did not wear a mask in front of cameras because he “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing” him with his face covered.
By Saturday, with coronavirus cases in the United States hitting records on a daily basis, Trump was willing to wear the mask in front of cameras — strolling through Walter Reed surrounded by several men who were also wearing masks. Trump said it made sense for him to wear the mask because he was in a hospital and “in that particular setting where you’re talking to a lot of soldiers and people that in some cases just got off the operating tables.”
Walter Reed’s website includes guidance that says visitors “are expected to wear a cloth face covering over their nose and mouth upon entering and while moving about the facility … when not able to maintain 6 feet of social distancing.” In explaining his about-face on face coverings this month, Trump still focused on superficial rationale, not the public health benefits.
“Actually, I had a mask on. I sort of liked the way I looked, okay? I thought it was okay,” Trump told Fox Business Network on July 1. “It was a dark, black mask, and I thought it looked okay. Looked like the Lone Ranger. But, no, I have no problem with that. I think — and if people feel good about it, they should do it.”
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