Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday said that he is now on board with encouraging the public to wear masks after initially punting to local health officials for guidance amid recent spikes in coronavirus cases.
After praising Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) efforts to restart the economy last month during a press conference at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Pence acknowledged the surge of coronavirus cases in the state and touted Abbott’s efforts to promote social distancing in light of it.
“When we issued guidelines to open up America again, we laid out a phased re-opening plan,” Pence said. “Texas took that plan and implemented it here in a safe and responsible way.”
Pence added that “there was guidance throughout that applied to all of the phases” which includes practicing good hygiene, hand washing, avoiding face touching and wearing “a mask wherever it’s indicated.”
“Or wherever you’re not able to practice the kind of social distancing that would prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Pence said. “We would strongly reiterate that today.”
The VP went on to note that “roughly half the state is under local ordinances strongly recommending” mask wearing, before saying that complying with the ordinances is “just a good idea.”
“If your local officials — in consultation with the state — are directing you to wear a mask, we encourage everyone to wear a mask in affected areas,” Pence said. “Where you can’t maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea. It will, we know from experience, will slow the spread.”
Pence’s latest remarks strongly recommending mask wearing demonstrates a notable shift within the Trump administration to encourage the practice in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Earlier Sunday, Pence defended Trump’s refusal to encourage Americans to wear masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus by saying during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the White House wants “to defer to governors” and local officials. The VP previously shared the same stance during the first briefing in nearly two months from the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Friday.
“One of the elements of the genius of America is the principle of federalism, of state and local control,” Pence told CBS. “We’ve made it clear that we want to defer to governors. We want to defer to local officials, and people should listen to them.”
HHS Secretary Alex Azar also dodged when grilled on whether the President is undercutting the message of his own health officials that masks should be worn in public to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“I am the President’s health secretary and I am telling people just what President Trump has said from day one in the reopening guidelines,” Azar said. “Social distance, wear facial covering where you can’t practice social distancing, engage in appropriate personal hygiene.”
Watch Pence’s remarks below:
Pence: "We encourage everyone to wear a mask in the affected areas. Where you can't maintain social distancing, wearing a mask is just a good idea." pic.twitter.com/YiAU11lA9O
— Talking Points Memo (@TPM) June 28, 2020