Donald Trump wore a mask in public for the first time during a visit to a military hospital a short helicopter ride from the White House on Saturday night. The president’s decision to wear a mask came as coronavirus cases rose to record levels in the U.S. and after aides and experts urged Trump to follow his own government’s guidelines on facial covers.
Trump flew to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in the suburbs of Washington DC to meet with injured service members and health care providers caring for patients with Covid-19.
When he left the White House, Trump told reporters: “When you are in a hospital, especially … I think he is expected to wear a mask.”
The only other time Trump was seen wearing a mask was behind the scenes during a tour of a Ford plant in May, from which an image emerged.
At the time, he refused to wear a mask in public because he said he did not want to please the gathered press.
In the past few weeks, several people working near the president have tested positive for coronavirus. Her son Donald Jr’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, tested positive for Covid-19 before the Trump rally at Mount Rushmore on July 3, and the couple had to go into quarantine.
The United States is breaking records for new coronavirus cases almost every day, and hospitals at new hot spots in the southern and western states are under severe pressure. Many believe that companies in those areas reopened too soon, after the president repeated it repeatedly, without the virus being under control.
Trump wore a dark-colored mask that he covered when he began his visit to the hospital on Saturday, walking with an entourage who also wore masks.
Top national Republicans, including Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, have belatedly endorsed wearing masks in recent days as the coronavirus has gained ground.
But Pence and Trump had avoided them during the first months of the pandemic when the virus was sweeping parts of California, the Seattle area, and New York.
People close to Trump told the Associated Press that the president feared that a mask would make him look weak and was concerned that he would shift his focus to the public health crisis rather than economic recovery.
While he himself has not worn it, Trump has sent mixed signals about the masks, acknowledging that they are appropriate if used indoors when people are together.
Trump also accused journalists of using them to be “politically correct,” and retweeted messages taunting the alleged Democratic presidential candidate, Joe Biden, for wearing a mask.
The issue has become politically divisive, with Republican Senator Lamar Alexander recently lamenting that the masks are not considered pro-Democrats or anti-Trump.
The official guide from the US federal government recommends using cloth covers to stop the spread of the coronavirus, especially when social distancing is not feasible.
The Associated Press helped report this story.