McConnell: 'No stigma' in wearing masks for virus

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FILE - In this June 16, 2020, file photo Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., holds a face mask in his hands during a news conference following a Senate policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington. On Friday, June 26, Vice President Mike Pence said Americans should look to their state and local leadership for modeling their behavior during the coronavirus pandemic. The comments only days after President Donald Trump held two campaign events that drew hundreds of participants but few wearing masks. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has become the highest-ranking Republican in Congress to encourage Americans to wear a facial mask as COVID-19 cases surge in states nationwide.

In a speech Monday, McConnell did not mention President Donald Trump's refusal to abide by the public health guidelines. Instead, the GOP leader joined those trying to set an example for a wary population that's deeply divided over masks, which experts say is a simple and effective way to help protect the spread of the virus.

“We must have no stigma — none — about wearing masks when we leave our homes,” McConnell said in the Senate.

The Kentucky Republican was careful not to confront Trump directly over bucking the health recommendations. But with an alarming surge in virus cases forcing a reversal of states' efforts to reopen businesses and shops, it's becoming clear to leaders that more public health guidance is needed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has mocked Trump's refusal to wear a mask as a “vanity thing."

Several other top-ranking Republicans have encouraged Trump to follow the Centers for Disease Control and prevention guidelines, but Americans are deeply divided on the issue in a worrisome trend for health experts as hospitals become overburdened with sick people.

McConnell counted mask-wearing as one “common sense” example ordinary Americans could apply during this time, before there is a vaccine.

“We cannot go right back to normal. We need new routines," he said.

“Wearing simple face coverings is not about protecting ourselves,” he said. “It is about protecting everyone we encounter.”