WASHINGTON –President Donald Trump used his Twitter account for the first time to promote the wearing of face masks Monday, hours after announcing plans to resume daily coronavirus task force briefings amid a surge in cases recently.
The president, who only once publicly donned a face covering while visiting Walter Reed hospital earlier this month, tweeted a photo of himself clad in a navy blue mask, adding that “many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance. There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President!”
Trump has sought to downplay the coronavirus pandemic even as more than half of all states, including California and Michigan, have paused reopening plans or are taking steps to halt the spread of COVID-19 amid a surge in cases across the country.
Earlier on Monday Trump announced he plans to return to the daily White House coronavirus task force briefings that he regularly attended earlier this year along with Vice President Mike Pence and public health officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force coordinator.
“We have had this big flare-up in Florida, Texas and a couple of other places, so I think what we’re going to do is I’ll get involved and we’ll start doing briefings,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, adding that the first briefing may come as soon as Tuesday.
Some White House officials, including adviser Kellyanne Conway, had called for Trump to return to the podium to resume the near daily briefings he conducted earlier in the pandemic.
Those closely watched events were suspended in April shortly after Trump drew criticism for appearing to indicate the virus could be treated with antiseptics. Some Republicans on Capitol Hill thought the briefings, and Trump’s penchant for going off script, were damaging his support.
The briefings were also a chance for Americans to hear from public health experts advising the White House, including Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci. While Trump has insisted he has a good relationship with Fauci, he also recently described him as an “alarmist,” and top aides have taken to openly criticizing him. Trump said the briefings would likely take place at 5 p.m. EDT.
Masks have become a political lightning rod since the pandemic unfolded as Trump has repeatedly shrugged off federal health guidelines that urge people to wear masks in public settings to contain the spread of the virus. Critics say his reluctance to wear a mask has encouraged his supporters to flout the health recommendation.
Robert Redfield, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said last week the U.S. could get the virus “under control” within four to eight weeks if everyone wore masks.
But Trump has signaled he’s more open to facial coverings after several prominent Republicans publicly endorsed face masks.
While visiting wounded soldiers and medical workers at Walter Reed hospital on July 11, Trump stepped in front of cameras wearing a navy blue mask emblazoned with the gold presidential seal for the first time. The president said masks were appropriate in hospital settings.
“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,” he told reporters. “I’ve never been against masks, but I do believe they have a time and a place.”
Trump told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that while he didn’t agree with Redfield, he is a “believer in masks.”
“No I want people to have a certain freedom, and I don’t believe in that. No, and I don’t agree with the statement that if everybody wear a mask everything disappears,” he told Wallace in an interview that aired Sunday.
“Everybody who is saying don’t wear a mask – all of sudden everybody’s got to wear a mask, and as you know masks cause problems, too. With that being said, I’m a believer in masks. I think masks are good,” Trump said.
Trump has defended his reluctance to wear a mask by pointing to some of his top health officials’ insistence that face coverings weren’t necessary in the very early days of the pandemic when little was known about the virus.
Surgeon General Jerome on Monday acknowledged he was wrong to discourage the use of face masks in the early months of the COVID-19 crisis and implored Americans to cover their faces to curb community spread during a “Fox & Friends” interview.
“I’m pleading with your viewers. I’m begging you,” Adams told the hosts of “Fox & Friends. “Please understand that we are not trying to take away your freedoms when we say, ‘Wear a face covering.’”
Recent polling indicates most Americans do not trust coronavirus-related information from the president and instead have more faith in statements from medical experts such as Fauci. .
A Quinnipiac University poll released last week showed that only 30% of voters trusted information from Trump about the coronavirus, and 67% did not. By contrast, 65% of voters trusted Fauci and 61% trusted the CDC.
Contributing: Nicholas Wu