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As coronavirus patients die alone in hospitals across the country, Vice-President Mike Pence visited a Mayo Clinic location on Tuesday without wearing a mask. By touring a facility in Rochester, Minnesota, without any face covering, the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force flouted CDC recommendations that all Americans wear masks in public.
He also disregarded the Mayo Clinic’s rule that “all patients and visitors [must] wear a face covering or mask to help slow the spread of COVID-19.” As studies show the high threat of indoor transmission, wearing a mask in a hospital is especially important to reduce the chance of spreading the virus to patients with suppressed immune systems and the medical staff taking care of them.
Shortly after the picture of Pence alone among officials — including FDA head Dr. Stephen Hahn — without a mask, the vice-president issued a weak explanation:
Although Pence is known for projecting a great deal of emotion with his eyes, his excuse fails to explain how a mask — which covers just the nose and mouth when properly worn — would preclude him from looking at health providers while thanking them. It also fails to account for the optics of the White House Coronavirus Task Force head willfully ignoring the rules at a medical facility, and the message that sends to any supporters already inclined to skip wearing masks, despite the protection they provide to others.
Pence isn’t the only prominent Republican to forgo wearing a mask: Last week, GOP representatives including Jim Jordan, Steve Scalise, and Kevin McCarthy appeared on the House floor without covering their faces. Pence also appears to be sharing in the exceptionalism of the president, who announced his plans to ignore CDC recommendations earlier this month. “I just don’t want to wear one myself, it’s a recommendation,” Trump said on April 3. “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, dictators, kings, queens — I don’t know, I don’t see it for myself.”