President Donald Trump made the dramatic announcement on Friday after days of internal debate and anticipation: a recommendation that Americans wear cloth masks when they go out in public, guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But in the days since, neither the president nor members of the coronavirus task force has been seen wearing them, participating in daily press conferences without any facial covering, DIY or otherwise.
Per the CDC, the mask guidelines are largely based on recent studies showing a significant amount of “asymptomatic” cases, meaning people who have and can spread coronavirus but don’t have symptoms, and “pre-symptomatic” cases, referring to people who can give the virus to others but haven’t yet developed symptoms.
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“This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms,” according to CDC guidelines announced Friday. “In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”
The CDC, the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force and national health care organizations around the country have urged incessantly, however, that wearing a mask should not replace any social distancing efforts. Masks can then help slow the spread in areas where social distancing is hard, but the recommendation “complements and does not replace” the president’s guidelines for social distancing, working from home and constant hand-washing.
But the president has not put the mask recommendation into action, despite the ripeness of conditions at the White House: reporters, though they sit a few seats apart, attend daily task force briefings in a small room with the president and his team often standing right next to each other on a stage, for hours at a time (although reporters’ temperatures are checked beforehand). When Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow was interviewed by a handful of reporters on the White House North Lawn on Monday, just one wore a mask. Kudlow did not.
“I just don’t want to wear one myself,” Trump said on Friday.
“It is a recommendation. They recommend it. I am feeling good. I just don’t want to be doing — I don’t know. Somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk, the great Resolute Desk, I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know, it somehow, I don’t see it for myself,” Trump said. But the president has not been meeting at the White House with foreign leaders — many of whom, including President Xi Jinping of China, have publicly worn masks while handling the coronavirus outbreak.
On Sunday, the president said he would wear a mask if he thought it was “important.”
“Would you like me to wear one right now answering your question?” Trump responded to a reporter, who asked about his lack of a mask. “That would be a little awkward, I guess. But no, I mean, again, I would wear one if I thought it was important,” the president said, acknowledging that many people were wearing masks and signaling that he would support members of the task force if they decided to wear masks. “Again, it is a recommendation and I understand that recommendation and I’m okay with it,” Trump said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also wasn’t wearing a mask on Sunday. Asked about his decision by reporters, Fauci said there were a few reasons.
“One of them is that part of the — in fact, the major reason to wear a face mask is to protect you from infecting you. I had my test yesterday and it’s negative,” Fauci said.
Both Fauci and coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx have urged people not to get complacent while wearing masks and let their guard down on social distancing guidelines, which they have heralded as the most effective measure in combatting the spread of the disease.
First lady Melania Trump sung a different tune than her husband. On Twitter, she asked everyone to “take social distancing and wearing a mask/face covering seriously.”
The first lady has tweeted out that Americans should wear masks –but hasn’t yet been seen wearing one either, though she also hasn’t held a large-scale public event in the last few weeks. Per CDC guidelines, masks aren’t necessary at home.
In a video on the CDC’s website posted Friday, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said that cloth face coverings can be made from an old scarf, bandanas and hand towels, and showed how to fashion a face covering from a t-shirt and two rubber bands. Adams has also urged people to wash their hands before putting on a mask, to avoid buying medical grade or N95 masks so that they can go straight to health professionals on the front line and to continue social distancing even if wearing a mask.
A few days later, Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that the anyone on Department of Defense property, installations or facilities must wear a cloth face covering when they cannot maintain 6 feet of social distance in public area or work centers.
“We want to take every measure to protect our troops … (while) making sure we can conduct our national security missions. And to do that we can’t always do the 6 feet distancing whether you’re an attack submarine, a bomber, in a tank so we have to take other measures,” Esper said on ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday.
Also on Sunday, 2020 Democratic contender and former Vice President Joe Biden committed to wearing a mask the next time he was in public, setting himself up as the visual contradiction to the president.
“Yes. Look, I think it’s important to follow the science, listen to the experts do what they tell you,” Biden said on ABC News’ “This Week.”
“He may not like how he looks in a mask but the truth of the matter is that — follow the science. That’s what they’re telling us. So if I go out in public, and I have not gone to commercial places of late, I haven’t gone to my local church … but my generic point is that you should follow the science,” Biden said.