Donald Trump finally wears a mask in public as Covid-19 rampages across the US

David Millward
·4-min read
Donald Trump wears Covid-19 mask - Alex Edelman/AFP
Donald Trump wears Covid-19 mask - Alex Edelman/AFP

Donald Trump finally bowed to mounting public pressure at the weekend and wore a face mask for the first time in public as coronavirus continued to cut a swathe across the US.

The US President at last gave in to pleas from Anthony Fauci, his increasingly marginalised top health advisor, although their last conversation is reported to have been several weeks ago.

After Mr Trump’s move, the US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said the country could reverse the Covid surge in two to three weeks if people followed basic hygiene guidelines.

According to the latest statistics, collated by Johns Hopkins University, nearly 3.27 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the US, with the disease claiming 137,904 lives, the highest death toll anywhere in the world. 

The split between Mr Trump and Mr Fauci has played out across the country with governors and mayors increasingly at odds as to how to counter the spread of the virus. 

Mr Trump donned a mask – complete with presidential seal – when he met wounded veterans at the Walter Reed military hospital outside Washington DC on Saturday.

The president had faced calls from several senior Republican senators to set an example to the nation by wearing a mask.

Face coverings have become a political and cultural issue in the US, with opponents – including some of Mr Trump's most loyal supporters – dismissing them as "muzzles" and an infringement of personal freedom.

Having previously mocked Joe Biden, his election opponent in November, for wearing a mask, Mr Trump softened his stance. 

"I'm all for masks," he told the Fox Business Network last week.

As he prepared to leave for his visit to Walter Reed, the president  added: “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."

Surgeon General Jerome Adams - Win McNamee/Getty Images
Surgeon General Jerome Adams - Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Sunday Dr Adams told CBS’s Face the Nation:: "Just as we've seen cases skyrocket, we can turn this thing around in two to three weeks if we can get a critical mass of people wearing face coverings, practising at least six feet of social distance, doing the things we know are effective.

"And it's important for the American people to understand when we're talking about the fall, we have the ability to turn this around very quickly if people will do the right thing."

Mr Fauci, the 79-year-old director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been a vocal advocate for masks for months.

Last week he threw his support behind states and municipalities which required mask use, saying the requirement would help contain the outbreak.

"If you say 'it doesn't matter whether you put it on or take it off,' you're giving a wrong, mixed signal," he said. "The message should be, 'Wear a mask, period.' "

Dr Fauci has been repeatedly at odds with Mr Trump over how the US has responded to Covid-19, triggering reports that he has become marginalised by the White House.

He is believed to have annoyed Mr Trump with his pessimistic view of how the US has coped with the coronavirus.

Coronavirus USA Spotlight Chart - deaths default
Coronavirus USA Spotlight Chart - deaths default

"As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don't think you can say we're doing great. I mean, we're just not," Dr Fauci said in a podcast interview with FiveThirtyEight, a website run by political analyst Nate Silver.

Mr Trump expressed his annoyance in several interviews with the conservative TV station, Fox News.

Dr Fauci was a nice man, he told Sean Hannity, "but he has made a lot of mistakes."

According to the Washington Post, Dr Fauci has not spoken to Mr Trump since the first week in June and has not been seen in the Oval Office for some time.

The White House raised the stakes on Sunday with an official telling NBC News that "several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things." 

Citing comments made by Dr Fauci over the past few months, the official highlighted how Dr Fauci has said in January that coronavirus was not a major threat and as recently as March stated "people should not be walking around with masks."

Meanwhile, the coronavirus surge in the south has put governors at odds with local mayors over how to respond.

In Georgia, Atlanta's mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who has been tipped as a possible Biden running-mate, rolled back the city's re-opening, reinstating an order for residents to stay home except for essential trips.

The move was condemned by Georgia's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, who said it was "confusing" and legally unenforceable.

In Florida, another state in which Covid-19 has surged, Republican governor Ron DeSantis has refused to reverse the re-opening of the state or make mask-wearing compulsory.

But last week, with coronavirus cases soaring Carlos Gimenez, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, which has a population of 2.7 million, issued an emergency order which restored restrictions including banning restaurants from allowing customers to dine indoors.