Mitch McConnell stresses need to wear face masks in public

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FILE - In this May 19, 2020, file photo President Donald Trump speaks with reporters after meeting with Senate Republicans at their weekly luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington. Standing behind Trump are Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., second from right, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. GOP candidates are burdened by Trumps lingering unpopularity with suburban voters. They face a potentially crippling fundraising disadvantage against pivotal Democratic incumbents. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Wading into a politically charged issue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday preached the importance of wearing masks in public as the nation's economy reopens from the “cataclysmic" damage inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

During a tour of hospitals this week in his home state of Kentucky, the Republican leader has stressed wearing masks in public and following social distancing guidelines.

“There should be no stigma attached to wearing a mask," McConnell said during an appearance in Owensboro. “And even among age groups that are least likely to either contract this disease or die from it, you could be a carrier. So I think what we all need to do is say, ‘OK, I’m going to take responsibility not only for myself but for others.’”

McConnell, who is in his late 70s and is in the midst of his own reelection campaign, has worn masks at his appearances. On Thursday, he stuffed the face covering into his coat jacket to speak. He donned it again afterward.

His mask-wearing is in stark contrast to the unwillingness of a key political ally to do so. President Donald Trump has refused to wear face coverings, and polls find that conservative Americans are more likely to forgo them. McConnell did not mention the president while touting the use of masks.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has repeatedly stressed the use of masks as people increasingly venture out as the economy gradually gets rebooted.

“This is not a battle between political parties or ideologies,” the Democratic governor said recently. “It’s plain, basic public health guidance that’s out there from the CDC and from everywhere else. It’s the same guidance on the federal and on the state level. And it’s just smart, right?”

Even as government restrictions to combat the virus are easing, the fallout reached a flashpoint in Kentucky last weekend when armed protesters gathered at the State Capitol. Protesters swarmed outside the Governor's Mansion and hanged Beshear in effigy near the statehouse.