“We must have no stigma — none — about wearing masks when we leave our homes and come near other people,” McConnell said in Senate floor remarks Monday afternoon. “Wearing simple face coverings is not about protecting ourselves. It is about protecting everyone we encounter.”
The virus has killed more than 123,000 people in the United States, and U.S. cases make up by far the largest share of the worldwide caseload. On Sunday, the U.S. surpassed 2.5 million confirmed cases amid a new spike in infections in Texas, Florida, California and other Southern and Western states.
McConnell contracted polio as a 2-year-old in Alabama, and he has spoken in recent months about how the coronavirus crisis has made him think about his own life as well as the fear Americans felt during the polio epidemic that hit the country decades ago.
McConnell has also stressed the importance of wearing face masks during appearances in Kentucky and in comments to reporters.
On his trip to Dallas on Sunday, Pence attended a briefing with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. All four were wearing face masks as they entered and left the meeting.
As the pandemic has swept across the country, members of the White House coronavirus task force have typically not worn masks and have stood close to each other at media briefings, and Trump has frequently ridiculed reporters and others for wearing face coverings.
Asked Monday whether Trump has changed his thinking about face masks given the recent uptick in cases, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the president believes “it’s the personal choice of any individual as to whether to wear a mask or not.”
“He encourages people to make whatever decision is best for their safety, but he did say to me he has no problem with masks and to do whatever your local jurisdiction requests of you,” McEnany said.
The battle in Congress over face coverings has at times grown tense. Last week, House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who chairs the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, threatened to end the practice of holding in-person hearings because some Republicans on the panel refused to wear masks.
“I will stay in the safety of my home as I would ask all of you to do,” Clyburn said during the Friday hearing.
Republicans, several of whom had worn masks into the hearing room before taking them off, contended that they could practice social distancing safely while seated maskless at the dais.
On Monday, Clyburn sent a letter to the top Republican on the subcommittee, Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), informing him that any member who does not wish to wear a mask may join the upcoming hearings via videoconference — but will not be allowed to participate in person.
In the letter, Clyburn noted that the congressional Office of Attending Physician has issued guidance stating that face coverings are required for House meetings held “in a limited enclosed space, such as a committee hearing room, for greater than 15 minutes.”
“The Attending Physician’s guidelines make clear that the mask requirement is in addition to — not an alternative to — social distancing guidelines,” Clyburn said. He added: “Unfortunately, the Republican Members’ refusal to wear masks undermined the safety of everyone in the hearing room.”
Later Monday, Clyburn acknowledged McConnell’s floor remarks in a tweet. “[McConnell] and I may not agree on much, but we agree on this,” Clyburn tweeted. “Wear a mask.”
Robert Costa and Annie Linskey contributed to this report.