President Donald Trump caused some confusion during an ABC News town hall on Tuesday when he criticized Democratic nominee Joe Biden for not following through on a pledge to institute a mask mandate to control the spread of COVID-19 – even though Biden does not hold office – and citing restaurant servers as a group opposed to the use of masks.
Trump made the remarks in response to a question from Julie Bard, a woman from Gibsonia in western Pennsylvania, who attended the town hall in Philadelphia.
“The wearing of masks has proven to lessen the spread of COVID. Why don’t you support a mandate for national mask-wearing? And why don’t you wear a mask more often?” asked Bard, who said she voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“Well, I do wear them when I have to, and when I’m in hospitals and other locations,” Trump replied. “But I will say this: They said at the Democrat convention they’re going to do a national mandate. They never did it because they’ve checked out and they didn’t do it. And a good question is, you ask why Joe Biden – they said we’re going to do a national mandate on masks.”
Moderator George Stephanopoulos pointed out that Biden encouraged governors to institute mask mandates.
“Well no, but he didn’t do it. I mean, he never did it,” Trump said.
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It was not immediately clear what Trump meant by his response, given that Biden does not currently hold public office.
During a June 26 interview, Biden indicated that, as president, he would use his executive authority to require people to wear masks in public. On Aug. 13, Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called on governors to implement mandatory mask orders.
“Every single American should be wearing a mask when they’re outside for the next three months at a minimum,” Biden said.
At that time, Trump accused Biden of politicizing the pandemic and decried the idea of bringing “the full weight of the federal government on law-abiding Americans” to enforce mask-wearing.
Trump has favored leaving the question to governors and local leaders, as with most aspects of the pandemic response. He has rarely been seen wearing a mask, and has sometimes appeared to mock Biden and others who chose to do so. And while he has occasionally said he believes “masks are good,” he routinely questions their efficacy, as he did at the town hall on Tuesday.
“A lot of people don’t want to wear masks,” Trump said, immediately after his criticism of Biden for not implementing a mandate. “A lot of people think that masks are not good,” he added.
“Who are those people?” asked Stephanopoulos.
“I’ll tell you who those people are: waiters,” Trump said. “They come over and they serve you, and they have a mask. And I saw it the other day where they were serving me, and they’re playing with the mask. I’m not blaming them, I’m just saying what happens. They’re playing with the mask, so the mask is over, and they’re touching it, and then they’re touching the plate. That can’t be good.”
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In addition to waiters, Trump said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially recommended against wearing masks.
“They said very strongly, George, don’t wear masks. Then all of a sudden they went to wear masks,” Trump said.
“The concept of a mask is good,” Trump added, before repeating his concerns about people touching their masks. “There are people that don’t think masks are good.”
When the outbreak in the U.S. began, Fauci said people who were contagious should wear masks, but he said people who did not show symptoms did not need to wear them, a view shared by the CDC and World Health Organization. On Feb. 17, weeks before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, Fauci told USA TODAY that “in the United States, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to wear a mask.”
Fauci and other public health officials expressed concern that if everyone rushed out to buy a mask, there would be a shortage for people who clearly needed them, such as health care workers, infected people and their caregivers. As they learned more about how the coronavirus spread and the high rate of spread from asymptomatic people, they changed their position. By early April, the CDC changed its guidance and encouraged universal use of face coverings.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington estimates that universal mask use could save more than 115,000 lives in the U.S. by the end of the year.
Contributing: Ledyard King, Bart Jansen and Nicholas Wu
Fact check: Photos of Biden, Harris, Whitmer and Booker without masks are from early March
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump chides Biden – who doesn’t hold office – for not mandating masks