In video footage of the visit posted online by PBS NewsHour, Pence can be seen standing and having a conversation in a room of the renowned clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he participated in a roundtable discussion and toured facilities that are supporting covid-19 research.
Of the more than a half-dozen people visible in the video, Pence is the only one not wearing a face mask.
Asked by reporters later about his decision not to wear a mask, Pence noted that he is frequently tested for coronavirus and so didn’t need to wear one.
“As vice president of the United States, I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus,” Pence said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance states that masks are helpful for preventing the transmission of the coronavirus 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.
Pence’s office declined to provide further details about when the vice president was last tested as well its discussions with the Mayo Clinic.
“Since I don’t have the coronavirus, I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers these incredible health-care personnel and look them in the eye and say thank you,” Pence said.
It was unclear how wearing a mask would have prevented Pence from being able to look Mayo Clinic staffers in the eye, since the coverings typically only cover the lower part of one’s face.
In a notice posted on its website earlier this month, the Mayo Clinic stated that as of April 13 it is “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.”
The Mayo Clinic confirmed Tuesday afternoon in a now-deleted tweet that it had communicated its masking policy to the vice president and his team.
“Mayo Clinic had informed @VP of the masking policy before his arrival today,” read the tweet.
The Mayo Clinic did not offer any further details, and its press office did not respond to a request for comment on why Pence was allowed to enter while not wearing a mask and why the tweet was deleted.
The CDC has recommended that health-care workers and other medical first responders wear surgical masks or N95 respirators, while others should wear cloth face coverings “in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain” given the risk of asymptomatic spread of the novel coronavirus.
President Trump, however, has chafed at the notion of wearing a mask and declared that he would choose not to — even as he was announcing the new federal mask-wearing guidance earlier this month.
“You don’t have to do it,” he said at the time. “They suggested for a period of time. This is voluntary. I don’t think I am going to be doing it.”
Trump and Pence have regularly led coronavirus task force briefings where they have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with other administration officials, none of them wearing face coverings.
And at an event in the East Room of the White House later Tuesday, Trump joked that he would “get in trouble” after he adjusted the microphone for another speaker.
The Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century sharply criticized Pence over his decision not to wear a mask on his visit to the Mayo Clinic, arguing that the vice president “just didn’t care enough about the health and safety of doctors, nurses, and patients to follow their guidance.”
“Pence, like Donald Trump, thinks the rules don’t apply to him, and he’s proven time and again that he can’t be trusted to take this crisis seriously,” American Bridge spokesman Kyle Morse said in a statement.