PHOENIX (Reuters) – Without wearing a face-covering himself, President Donald Trump toured a new medical mask factory in Arizona on Tuesday, taking a rare trip out of Washington to visit a state he hopes to win in the November election even as Americans avoid travel to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Touching down in Phoenix in midafternoon, Trump visited a Honeywell International Inc factory making N95 face masks for healthcare workers. The facility was rushed into service in less than five weeks because of a shortage of the protective equipment and is producing face masks for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The president wore safety goggles during the factory tour but did not wear a mask, even though production workers at the facility did and a sign was visible that read: “Attention: Face Mask Required in this Area. Thank You!”
Honeywell Chief Executive Officer Darius Adamczyk, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and some other visiting dignitaries also did not wear masks.
Trump told reporters as he left the White House earlier on Tuesday that he would likely wear a mask at the facility.
The federal government has encouraged Americans since early April to wear masks to avoid spreading the virus even when not feeling any symptoms of COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory disease it causes. Trump has so far declined to wear a mask himself.
Vice President Mike Pence said on Sunday he erred in not wearing a face mask to the Mayo Clinic last month. His decision not to wear the mask had drawn widespread criticism.
The White House did not immediately respond to a query on why Trump did not wear a face mask at the Honeywell plant.
Trump has sought to give an optimistic view about the country’s ability to recover from the virus and is eager for states to reopen businesses whose lockdown closings have crushed the economy and left millions unemployed.
The virus is known to have infected more than 1.2 million people in the United States, including at least 70,000 who have died, according to a Reuters tally.
In Arizona, Trump also participated in a discussion about supporting Native Americans. He took the opportunity to argue that the U.S. economy should be reopened quickly.
“Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon,” Trump said.
The Republican president confirmed his administration’s plans to wind down the White House’s coronavirus task force as it focuses on a new phase, the aftermath of the pandemic.
Asked if he would receive a coronavirus vaccine as soon as one is developed, Trump said he would but also might decide not to if that were deemed better for the country.
“If there’s a vaccine and they wanted me to be first in line, I’d be first in line or I’d be last in line, or I wouldn’t take it at all, whatever’s best for the country,” Trump said.
The location of Trump’s first trip out of Washington in weeks was not coincidental.
Trump won Arizona in the 2016 election against Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but opinion polls show him currently trailing the presumptive 2020 Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, in the Southwestern state.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Steve Holland, David Lawder and Eric Beech; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)