Vice-President Mike Pence drew backlash this week after footage showed him speaking to staff and patients at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, without wearing a face mask, despite the unprecedented and uncertain times of the current global coronavirus pandemic.
Pence, who actually leads the White House’s coronavirus task force, was the only person visible in the footage without a face covering. This discrepancy drew sharp criticism on social media, with some users calling the vice-president a threat to public health and not being a good example to the public.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines on wearing face masks, advising for the use of cloth masks, particularly in public settings where social distancing is hard to maintain and especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
Pence’s lack of a mask also drew attention to the Mayo Clinic’s policy, which recently has required all patients and visitors to wear masks while on-site, according to the Washington Post. In a since-deleted tweet, the Mayo Clinic said that the vice-president was made aware of the masking policy before arriving, but he apparently decided to forgo it.
The Post notes that Pence later defended his lack of facial covering, saying that he and those around him are regularly tested for the coronavirus and offering the following:
“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.” (The required face coverings do not block your eyes.)
This defense only drew further backlash online.