President Donald Trump on Saturday wore a mask in a public setting for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic struck the nation in earnest in March.
Trump wore a black mask during a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. The institution requires mask-wearing as a means of preventing spread of COVID-19, but the president has not always abided by such requirements.
In a visit to a Ford vehicle manufacturing plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, on May 21, the company said it made its mandatory mask policy clear to the White House, but Trump wore one only part of tour, and not in front of cameras. "I didn't want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it," he said.
Mask-wearing has become a political issue as some of the president's followers have made wearing one a sign of submission to liberal opposition.
Trump has not called for a national mask mandate even as some of the administration's own medical experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have suggested mask-wearing is key to preventing the virus from spreading.
The United States has seen nearly 3,250,000 cases and over 135,000 deaths through Saturday, according to NBC News' tally.
Andrew Bates, spokesman for the former Vice President Joe Biden the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement that while Biden has "led by example" by wearing a mask in public, Trump has made safety into a political issue.
"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," Bates said. "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."
Trump has previously focused on the way the protective equipment looks on him.
Last week he told Fox News, "I mean, I'd have no problem. Actually, I had a mask on, I said I like the way I looked. Okay? I thought it was okay. It was a dark black mask. And I thought it looked okay. It looked like the Lone Ranger. But no, I have no problem with that. And if people feel good about it, they should do it."
On Saturday he was accompanied by military leaders and followed by staff who were all wearing masks.
Before boarding Marine One for the trip to Walter Reed, Trump said, "I think when you’re in a hospital, especially 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, I think it’s a great thing to wear a mask. I’ve never been against masks, but I do believe they have a time and a place."