Few attendees at President Donald Trump's campaign rally on Saturday wore masks, which is not too surprising considering the president's rhetoric on the subject. The night before the event, Trump falsely suggested that it could be more dangerous to wear a mask than not to, despite conclusive scientific evidence to the contrary. Still, the president told Axios that his rally would be a "wild evening" where "people do what they want."
Trump told reporters that he believes it is safe to hold his campaign rally in the Bank of Oklahoma Center in Tulsa on Saturday night, without explaining why. Asked about cautionary measures like masks, he said: "you know, there was a time when people thought it was worse wearing a mask. I let people make up their own decision." He later added: "If people want to wear masks, I think that's great. I won't be. Not as a protest, but I don't feel that I'm in danger."
The president may have been referring to the early days of the coronavirus pandemic when medical experts asked Americans not to wear masks unless necessary since there was a shortage of masks for doctors and nurses in the United States. He could also have been referencing some viral posts on social media, which contend that wearing cloth masks is worse than wearing no mask at all. However, these claims have been repeatedly debunked by medical experts, including some in Trump's circle.
Some unattributed posts have claimed that cloth masks can trap moisture and ultimately raise the wearer's risk of getting sick, but extensive testing has now shown this to be false. According to a report by The Tampa Bay Times, researchers found that, on average, cloth masks provide about 80 percent protection from COVID-19. While this is lower than a surgical mask, it is a huge step up from wearing no mask at all.
Critics say that Trump has turned masks and other preventative measures against COVID-19 into political issues rather than scientific ones, and that his followers take that cue, putting everyone in danger. His rally on Saturday has been widely condemned as a considerable risk for spreading the coronavirus, and he offered little evidence to the contrary except for the force of will.
"We have to get back to business. We have to get back to living our lives. Can't do this any longer," the president said. "And I do believe it's safe. I do believe it's very safe."
Trump is expected to take the stage at 8 p.m. ET to speak to voters on Saturday night. The event will be broadcast on news networks and livestreamed online.