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Pence acknowledges he should have worn a mask during his Mayo Clinic visit

Vice President Pence did not wear a mask while meeting with patients and staff during his April 28 visit at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. (Video: Reuters)
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Vice President Pence acknowledged Sunday night that he should have worn a face mask during a visit last week to the Mayo Clinic, a rare admission of a mistake by a senior Trump administration official.

Pence’s comments followed an uproar over his appearance Tuesday at the Rochester, Minn., facility, where news footage showed him speaking to staff members and patients without the face coverings that everyone else around him wore and that Mayo Clinic officials said were required under their policies.

Pence initially defended his decision, saying he and those around him are tested regularly for the coronavirus and he thought it would be a good opportunity to “look them in the eye” and thank researchers and health-care personnel at the clinic.

On Sunday night, however, Pence took a different tack while appearing alongside President Trump at a Fox News virtual town hall broadcast from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.

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Asked about his decision, Pence reiterated that he is tested often and does not have covid-19. But he added: “I didn’t think it was necessary, but I should have worn a mask at the Mayo Clinic.”

He noted that he had donned a face covering two days later when visiting a General Motors facility in Indiana that has ramped up production of ventilators during the pandemic. And he then praised average Americans for taking similar steps.

“It really is a statement about the American people, the way people have been willing to step forward, practice social distancing, wear masks in settings where they can’t do that,” Pence said. “As we continue to practice those principles, all of us together, I know we’ll get through this.”

In a since-deleted tweet, the Mayo Clinic said that Pence and his team were aware of the mask policy ahead of Tuesday’s tour.

Pence’s wife, Karen Pence, continued to defend him later in the week, saying during a television interview that it wasn’t until “after he left Mayo Clinic that he found out that they had a policy of asking everyone to wear a mask.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance states that masks are helpful for preventing the transmission of covid-19 because even people who do not show symptoms can still spread the virus, particularly in “public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” The agency does not address whether someone who has recently been tested should wear a mask.

In a notice posted on its website last month, the Mayo Clinic said that as of April 13, it was “requiring all patients and visitors to wear a face covering or mask to help slow the spread of COVID-19.”

“Patients and visitors are asked to bring their own face covering or mask to wear,” the clinic said in the notice. “If a patient or visitor does not have a mask, Mayo Clinic will provide one.”

Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.