Vice President Mike Pence is the White House official who chairs the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force. On Tuesday, he tromped around the Mayo Clinic without wearing a mask, in clear violation of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and the clinic’s rules.
Per CNN, the Rochester, Minnesota-based clinic has had the mandatory mask policy in place since April 13, as well as tweeted (and deleted) that it informed Pence “of the masking policy prior to his arrival today.” Pence did not shake hands while roaming a blood and plasma donation center inside the clinic, but he was close to numerous administrators, doctors, and an employee who was donating plasma after recovering from the virus.
The vice president told reporters that he receives coronavirus tests regularly, according to CNN, so he isn’t bound by the same health guidelines as the little people.
“As vice president of the United States I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus,” Pence said. “When the CDC issued guidelines about wearing a mask it was their recognition that people that may have the coronavirus could prevent the possibility of conveying the virus to someone else by wearing a mask.”
“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 added.
The CDC face mask advisory as well as its accompanying FAQ contain no sections saying that, actually, it’s fine to ignore the whole thing if you just have a really strong gut feeling that you don’t have the virus. But the CDC does explicitly say it is necessary whenever around other people:
A cloth face covering should be worn whenever people are in a community setting, especially in situations where you may be near people. These settings include grocery stores and pharmacies. These face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing. Cloth face coverings are especially important to wear in public in areas of widespread COVID-19 illness.
In other words, Pence is prioritizing looking like a macho man and conveying the contradictory impression that everything is fine (it is not) over not being a beef-witted potential biohazard. As the New York Times has noted, politicians of both parties ranging from governors and senators to city mayors have forewent masks in public, which sends contradictory signals to the public that perhaps they too might have a special reason not to inconvenience themselves. But unlike Pence, those officials are not in charge of the federal coronavirus task force.