Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday defended his decision not to wear a face mask while visiting the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing cloth face masks in public. The Mayo Clinic itself now has a policy requiring "all patients, visitors and staff to wear a face covering or mask." Pence, however, responded to criticism that he defied that policy by stating how he complied with federal guidelines.
"As Vice President of the United States I'm tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus," Pence told reporters, according to PEOPLE. "And 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 healthcare personnel and look them in the eye and say thank you."
During his Tuesday visit, during which he met with COVID-19 patients being treated at the facility, Pence was the only one seen without a face covering. Those accompanying him, including Food and Drug Administration head Stephen Hahn, meanwhile, complied with the Mayo Clinic's policy.
Pence's lack of a mask, which was seen across social media platforms in pictures released from the visit, was immediately slammed online. With the hashtag, "Pence Is An Idiot" trending on Twitter, many people criticized his decision given that he is the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Others criticized him for ignoring Mayo Clinic's policy, putting both himself and others in danger.
NBC News reports that prior to the vice president's visit, Mayo Clinic had informed Pence of its policy requiring masks, which was issued on April 13, with a statement saying that Mayo Clinic will provide masks for those who do not have one. In a since-deleted tweet, the clinic wrote that "had informed [Vice President Mike Pence] of the masking policy prior to his arrival today."
The clinic's guidelines are in accordance recommendations from the Trump administration and the CDC. After the guidelines were announced, however, President Donald Trump confirmed that he would not partake, telling reporters that he didn't think he was "going to be doing it" and that "wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens – I just don't see it."
According to NPR, Pence's Mayo Clinic visit is just one of two trips he will make this week. The trips come as the White House seeks to ease back into travel as stay at home orders and social distancing measures begin to ease amid the pandemic.