Joseph Petro is a former special agent and senior executive with the Secret Service.

I served as a special agent and senior executive in the Secret Service for 23 years, including in supervisory roles under President Ronald Reagan and Vice President Dan Quayle. During my time with Reagan, we required the agents to wear protective vests whenever they accompanied the president outside the White House. These vests were very uncomfortable, but everyone understood and accepted the need to wear them. On a number of occasions, I asked the president to wear one. His response was similar to that of the agents, but he never refused to wear the vest.

We did this because the safety of our agents and those we were protecting was always our highest priority. Today, it seems, that is not always the case.

The most recent example is President Trump’s decision over the weekend to take a ride in a Chevrolet Suburban around Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for the sole purpose of waving to those gathered along a street. Given the president’s covid-19 infection, this was a gratuitous and dangerous political exercise that needlessly exposed his Secret Service agents — as well as their families — to the potentially deadly novel coronavirus. Where was the Secret Service senior management? Did anyone resist this potential danger to these agents and perhaps their families? It was an avoidable risk, and someone should have objected.

That was by no means the first time Secret Service agents have been put in danger. Our nation’s health professionals have consistently advised that wearing protective masks in public places is the single most important protection against covid-19. The president, however, has politicized compliance with this recommendation. He has refused to wear a mask on nearly all occasions, and his staff and most attendees at his rallies follow his example. The inevitable result has been the surge in positive cases among the president’s staff and other associates.

I have noticed that the Secret Service agents assigned to the president have also not been wearing protective masks. This is very disappointing. I can tell you from experience that wearing a protective mask is not nearly as uncomfortable as wearing a protective vest. The unfortunate irony is that an agent is much more likely to be exposed to someone with the coronavirus than to a bullet being fired toward the president.

I hold the management of the Secret Service responsible for this inexcusable lack of concern for the lives of the agents and their families. These agents attend a presidential event surrounded by staff members, including the president, and thousands of attendees not wearing protective masks and then return home that night, potentially exposing their families and their local communities to this deadly virus.

The Secret Service has had the responsibility to protect our president since 1901, when it began protecting Theodore Roosevelt in the aftermath of the McKinley assassination. In all the years since then, the agency has recognized the importance of training agents to keep them safe. What has happened to that commitment?

I would hope the Secret Service would reflect on the decades of effort made to protect the agents in the performance of their important duties and require them to wear masks. The Secret Service cannot protect the president from himself, but its management has a solemn responsibility to protect those agents who put their lives on the line every day to protect him. It should not be that hard to do.

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