Gulf between White House's words, Trump's actions on masks

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

President Donald Trump smiles as he arrives to speak to the White House conference on American History at the National Archives museum, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – White House officials insist that President Donald Trump strongly supports face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus and always has. But the president’s own words and actions tell a very different — and sometimes puzzling — story.

That's created a gulf between Trump and public health officials that keeps widening six months after the virus took root in the U.S., with the president undercutting medical experts who say consistent face covering is one of the best tools to fight the pandemic.

Trump initially dismissed mask wearing for himself, then allowed himself to be seen wearing one while visiting a military hospital. He has called it “patriotic” to wear a mask but seldom passes up an opportunity to mock Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for his routine mask wearing.

On Wednesday, after the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Congress that his mask might even be a better guarantee than a vaccine against the virus, Trump publicly undercut Dr. Robert Redfield.

“As far as the mask is concerned, he made a mistake,” said Trump.

Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said he’s “bewildered” by Trump’s ambiguity about masks. He said widespread use would also help restore economic vitality faster, a prime Trump goal.

“I don’t think that there’s any controversy about masks anywhere in the world,” Inglesby said. “Why we continue to have this debate about it is a mystery."

Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University’s law school, said Trump’s vacillation between portraying masks as an infringement on personal rights and touting them as crucial to stemming the virus has left Americans “absolutely dazed and confused.”