About face: Pence wears mask during visit to Indiana plant following criticism

Pence sported the mask days after he was criticized for not wearing one during a tour of the Mayo Clinic.
Image: Mike Pence, Mary Barra
Vice President Mike Pence tours the General Motors/Ventec ventilator production plant with GM CEO and Chairman Mary Barra in Kokomo, Ind., on Thursday, April 30, 2020.Michael Conroy / AP

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE
By Dareh Gregorian

Days after he was criticized for not wearing a mask during a tour of a hospital's coronavirus testing facility, Vice President Mike Pence sported one Thursday while touring a General Motors plant in Indiana that is now making ventilators.

Like the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, which Pence visited on Tuesday, the G.M. plant in Kokomo has protocols in place requiring workers to wear "medical grade protective masks."

Pence, who's the head of the White House coronavirus task force, thanked workers at the plant for their "critical help" in fighting the virus. He said the re-purposed plant has already made over 600 ventilators. "I just wanted to thank you," the former Indiana governor said. "It's an honor to be among the heroes in the Hoosier State."

He later took off the mask during a round-table discussion at the plant, where participants, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, appeared to be sitting several feet apart. None of the attendees at the panel, including administration officials and GM executives, wore a mask.

The vice president had defended his lack of a face covering during the Mayo visit, telling reporters he wasn't concerned about spreading the virus because he has tested negative for it. "Since I don't have the coronavirus, I thought it'd be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health care personnel, and look them in the eye and say thank you," Pence said then.

Dr. Vin Gupta told NBC News that that was a potentially dangerous attitude. "The vast majority of individuals that we think are likely transmitters of the disease have no symptoms," Gupta said. "You basically have a bunch of people feeling great who think they don't need to follow the rules."

Earlier Thursday, Pence's wife, Karen, told "Fox & Friends" that her husband had been unaware of the Mayo Clinic's policy and did not mean to "scare" anybody.

"It was actually after he left Mayo Clinic that he found out they had a policy of asking everyone to wear a mask," she said. "So someone who’s worked on this whole task force for over two months is not someone who would have done anything to offend anyone or hurt anyone or scare anyone."

The clinic said it had alerted Pence's office about the policy before his visit.

President Donald Trump, who'd previously said he would not wear a mask in public, was asked by NBC News' Kristen Welker later in the day if he planned to wear a mask on his scheduled trip to a mask-making facility in Arizona next week. He said "I'd have no problem" wearing a mask depending "on the conditions" there.

"I'm supposed to make a speech. I just don't know — should I speak in a mask? You are going to have to tell me if that is politically correct. If it is, I will speak in a mask," he said.