When President Donald Trump finally left his White House quarantine Tuesday to tour a plant in Arizona that makes protective equipment, he declined to wear a mask, something he’s been reluctant to do since the outbreak began.
During a tour of a Honeywell plant making N95 respirators for health-care workers, the president donned safety goggles but no face covering, making good on his remarks that he didn’t need to do it and probably wouldn’t.
A White House official told reporters that officials were not required to wear masks but to take all precautions. A sign displaying safety guidelines at the facility directed employees to wear masks “at all times.”
Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended on April 3 that Americans wear face masks in public, Trump has repeatedly suggested they were impractical, pointless and beneath the dignity of the leader of the free world.
Trump said he couldn’t see himself meeting with “presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens” while wearing a mask, even though diplomatic trips have been curtailed. He teased a small-business executive who had worn a mask at a White House event, telling her to put it back on before she spoke.
After facing criticism for not wearing a mask during a visit to a Mayo Clinic facility last week, Vice President Mike Pence wore one at a General Motors plant. In a Fox News town hall Sunday, he expressed regret.
“I didn’t think it was necessary, but I should have worn a mask at the Mayo Clinic,” he said.
Trump and Pence get tested for Covid-19 frequently.
Even before his trip to Arizona, public health experts said that Trump’s comments had undermined the already-muddled White House message on face masks.
Dr. K. “Vish” Viswanath, a professor of health communication at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said people notice when a leader’s behavior contradicts their own recommendations.
“At the very least, it confuses people,” he said. “At the very worst, it might even cause them to question if these rules apply to them or if the message is really that critical.”
But he said that images of Trump wearing a mask could be persuasive, especially for the president’s more skeptical supporters. Researchers call this the “Katie Couric effect,” after the journalist who had a televised colonoscopy, causing screening rates to soar.
Trump’s dismissive attitude toward masks lines up with his GOP base. An ABC News/Ipsos poll released last week showed that 69% of Democrats reported having worn a face mask or covering when away from home in the past week, while only 47% of Republicans said the same. Many people protesting coronavirus lockdowns in a number of state capitals recently have also skipped wearing masks while gathering in large groups.
Other political leaders have worn masks in public. The mayors of Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles; the governors of California, Colorado, Florida, New York, Ohio, Virginia and Washington, and the heads of China, France, Greece, India and Japan have all worn them in public, as has Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova drew worldwide attention when she swore in a new prime minister wearing a fuchsia mask that matched her dress.
Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has criticized Trump for not wearing a mask, saying that he should listen to science and pledging to wear one himself in public.
Craig Spencer, an emergency room doctor at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, said that surgical masks reduce the chances of contracting coronavirus somewhat, but they are much more effective at preventing the wearer from infecting others, especially if they aren’t showing symptoms, and they are most effective when both parties are wearing them.
But while Trump was reluctant, his wife and daughter have not been.
Shortly after the CDC guidelines were updated, First Lady Melania Trump posted videos and photos of herself wearing a mask on social media, while Trump’s daughter Ivanka posted a snapshot with her daughter Arabella wearing masks they made for each other.
Studies of past outbreaks in Hong Kong and Mexico City also found that men were less likely to wear face masks in public.
With the women in Trump’s family promoting masks while Trump, his sons Don Jr. and Eric and son-in-law Jared Kushner have not been seen in them, Ronald F. Levant, a retired psychology professor at the University of Akron, said it may be unintentionally sending a message that wearing masks is feminine.
“It just reinforces the masculinity of what he’s doing by contrast,” he said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines