Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argued there should be no stigma about wearing a face mask amid the coronavirus pandemic, as President Donald Trump continues to be resistant to wearing one in public.
“We must have no stigma, none, about wearing masks when we leave our homes and come near other people. Wearing simple face coverings is not about protecting ourselves, it is about protecting everyone we encounter,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday.
McConnell’s comments come as the US has reported more than 2.6 million cases of the virus and at least 129,544 deaths, and as of Tuesday, 36 states have showed an upward trend in average new daily cases over the last seven days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
“The more we hate the pain and suffering that accompanied the strict stay-home guidelines a few months ago, the happier we should be to take responsible small steps every day to ensure our country can play on offense against the virus,” the Republican leader said Monday.
McConnell made similar remarks Friday in his home state of Kentucky, where he stressed people should continue to social distance and wear masks in public “until we find a vaccine,” according to CNN affiliate WKYT.
There remains a sizable group of conservative House Republicans who decline to wear masks around the Capitol, but most congressional Republicans wear masks and encourage Americans to do the same.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy on Tuesday said he believes in wearing masks because “I do not want to shut the economy back down.”
“Wearing the mask is the best opportunity for us to keep this economy open, keep us working, keep us safe and help us as we build towards that vaccine where we’re in a much stronger position than any country before,” the California Republican said on “Fox & Friends.”
Pressed on whether he thinks Trump should wear a mask to set an example for Americans, McCarthy noted that he himself does not wear a mask when he speaks on the House floor, and added that the President has worn a mask “at times as he goes forward.”
Masks have become a political flash point as some Americans argue the requirement infringes upon their civil liberties.
Vice President Mike Pence, who has been inconsistent with wearing a mask in public, on Sunday offered his most forceful endorsement thus far of wearing a face covering to protect from coronavirus.
“If your local officials, in consultation with the state, are directing you to wear a mask, we encourage everyone to wear a mask in the affected areas. And where you can’t maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea, and it will, we know, from experience – will slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Pence, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, said during a trip to Dallas.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges everyone to wear a “cloth face cover when they have to go out in public,” noting that masks are critical “in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms.”
Despite the advice from public health experts, Trump continues to defy his own government’s health recommendations and has been reluctant to be seen wearing a mask in public.
The White House maintains that everyone who comes in contact with the President is tested for coronavirus regularly.
During a trip to a Ford plant in May, Trump claimed he wore a mask away from reporters and cameras but took it off because he “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”
Also last month, he appeared to mock his 2020 rival Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, for wearing a mask outdoors at a Memorial Day event, and, on a separate occasion, a White House reporter for wearing one during a press conference.
Trump suggested in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that masks are being worn as a political statement, rather than a health precaution, to show disapproval of him.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Monday that “it’s the personal choice of any individual as to whether to wear a mask or not.”
“He encourages people to make whatever decision is best for their safety, but he did say to me he has no problem with masks and to do whatever your local jurisdiction requests of you,” McEnany said.
But even conservative media is pushing a different message than that of the President, touting the effectiveness of masks and suggesting that Trump should be seen wearing one.
During the interview with McCarthy Tuesday, “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy opined on the President’s lack of wearing a mask, “I just don’t see any downside in the President being seen more often wearing it. It’s symbolic. Obviously, it’s patriotic because you’re not only protecting yourself, you’re protecting other people … It would be a powerful symbol.”
Fox News’ Sean Hannity on his program Monday night, argued that face coverings work while he criticized Democrats for making a “political weapon” out of mask wearing.
“Anecdotally, I was in the epicenter of this. I went to my grocery store every week. Guess what? They wore masks. Nobody at my grocery store, thank God, got coronavirus. I think they work,” the conservative host said. “If I wear a mask and it opens up baseball, concerts, NFL football, I’d rather wear the mask and go to the game to protect grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, and watch the ball game.”
CNN’s Ali Zaslav, Ian Sloan, Allison Main, Jason Hoffman and Sarah Westwood contributed to this report.