May 21, 2020

Trump tours Ford plant without a mask, defying company policy

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President Donald Trump didn’t wear a face mask as he toured Ford Motor Co.’s ventilator facility Thursday, defying the automaker’s policies and seeking to portray an image of normalcy even as American coronavirus deaths approach 100,000.

But he told reporters he had put on a mask in the “back area” of the plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and didn’t want to give them the “pleasure” of seeing him with it.

“I was given a choice,” he said. “And I had one on in an area where they preferred it, so I put it on. And it was very nice. Look, very nice. But they said they’re not necessary.” He added that he had also worn goggles.

He held up a dark colored mask bearing the presidential seal. Trump said he had been tested for the coronavirus earlier in the day and didn’t need to cover his face.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended wearing face coverings in public settings where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, and experts on the president’s coronavirus task force have said masks are useful in preventing the spread of the virus from those who are unaware they have it.

Many companies continuing operations during the pandemic have instituted requirements that workers wear protective gear, including masks, while on the job, and Ford released a 64-page return-to-work playbook that states: “Face masks are required to be worn by everyone, in all facilities, at all times.”

The company said after the president’s visit was announced that it had shared details of its safety policies with the White House. Still, Ford ultimately opted to defer to the determinations of the White House, Rachel McCleery, a company spokeswoman, said Tuesday.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, said in an open letter Thursday that the president had a “social and moral responsibility” to take precautions to prevent the further spread of the virus. Nessel subsequently told CNN that if Trump “fails to wear a mask, he’s going to be asked not to return to any unclosed facilities inside our state.”“We are just asking that President Trump comply with the law of our state, just as we would make the same request of anyone else in those plants,” Nessel said.

Asked about his plans before he left the White House on Thursday, Trump was noncommittal, but said “I want to get our country back to normal.”

After a visit late last month to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Vice President Mike Pence was criticized for disregarding clinic rules requiring face masks -- though the vice president has been spotted wearing a mask at some subsequent events, including a trip to a Florida nursing home on Wednesday.

Polling shows a partisan divide over masks. Just over three-quarters of Democrats say wearing a face mask is a matter of public health, while 51 per cent of Republicans agree, according to a survey released this week by YouGov and HuffPost. And while 11 per cent of Republicans say there is no benefit to wearing a mask, just 3 per cent of Democrats share that opinion.