Trump defends decision not to wear a mask during factory tour

The president said Wednesday he had been told it wasn’t necessary for him to cover his face during a tour of a mask production facility in Phoenix the day before.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Wednesday defended his decision not to wear a mask during a tour of a mask production facility in Phoenix the day before, saying he had been told it wasn’t necessary.

“I didn’t need it, and I asked specifically the head of Honeywell, 'Should I wear a mask?' and he said, 'Well, you don’t need one in this territory.' And as you know, we were far away from people, from the people making the masks," said Trump, who also didn't wear a mask Wednesday as he spoke with reporters during a photo opportunity with nurses in the Oval Office.

Trump said he did have a mask on "for a period of time," and that he had at least four masks with him during the tour.

"I can’t help it if you didn’t see me, I mean, I had a mask on," Trump told reporters.

When Trump was seen by reporters and photographers touring the Honeywell plant his face was uncovered, and he was less than 6 feet apart from the Honeywell officials giving him the tour, who were also without masks. Other workers throughout the plant were wearing masks; a sign posted in the building said, "Please wear your mask at all times."

The administration has issued guidelines to the public saying people should wear a cloth face covering in public settings where it is difficult to practice social distancing measures, such as grocery stores and pharmacies.

Trump’s decision to not wear a mask during other public appearances has been criticized as setting a bad example, particularly for his supporters who would be more likely to wear masks if the president did, said Jonas Kaplan, an assistant research professor of psychology at the University of Southern California.

There is some new research which suggests that Trump supporters are less likely to wear masks — or to practice other preventative measures, like social distancing.

"It's a vanity thing," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an interview on Andrea Mitchell Reports. "You think, as the president of the United States, you would have the confidence to honor the guidance that you are giving others in the country. Yes, he should have worn a face mask."

At the White House, officials who are in close contact with Trump are tested regularly for coronavirus. Honeywell said that those who were in close proximity to Trump on Tuesday had tested negative and were allowed not to wear a mask.

“Following White House recommended protocol, a small number of individuals directly interfacing with the president on Tuesday were tested for COVID-19 immediately prior to the event, received negative test results, and were permitted to not wear masks during portions of the visit based on that medical screening,” said Honeywell spokeswoman Nina Krauss.

A nurse at an Oval Office event on Wednesday told Trump that PPE supplies had been "sporadic, but it’s been manageable and we do what we have to do," drawing pushback from the president. "Sporadic for you, but not sporadic for a lot of other people ... " he said. "Because I’ve heard the opposite. I’ve heard that they are loaded up with gowns now."

Vice President Mike Pence was also criticized for not wearing a mask when he toured the Mayo Clinic's coronavirus testing labs last week despite hospital rules that all occupants wear masks.

Pence later called the decision a mistake, and days later wore one during a tour of a General Motors plant in Indiana that is now making ventilators.

Caroline Vakil contributed.