WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has become the highest-ranking Republican in Congress to encourage Americans to wear a facial mask as COVID-19 cases surge in states nationwide.
In a speech Monday, McConnell did not mention President Donald Trump's refusal to abide by the public health guidelines. Instead, the GOP leader joined those trying to set an example for a wary population that's deeply divided over masks, which experts say is a simple and effective way to help protect the spread of the virus.
“We must have no stigma — none — about wearing masks when we leave our homes,” McConnell said in the Senate.
The Kentucky Republican was careful not to confront Trump directly over bucking the health recommendations. But with an alarming surge in virus cases forcing a reversal of states' efforts to reopen businesses and shops, it's becoming clear to leaders that more public health guidance is needed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has mocked Trump's refusal to wear a mask as a “vanity thing."
Several other top-ranking Republicans have encouraged Trump to follow the Centers for Disease Control and prevention guidelines, but Americans are deeply divided on the issue in a worrisome trend for health experts as hospitals become overburdened with sick people.
McConnell counted mask-wearing as one “common sense” example ordinary Americans could apply during this time, before there is a vaccine.
“We cannot go right back to normal. We need new routines," he said.
“Wearing simple face coverings is not about protecting ourselves,” he said. “It is about protecting everyone we encounter.”
At the Capitol, the situation is dividing lawmakers with several of Trump's key allies declining to wear masks, against the advice of the attending physician.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is one of the few senators who routinely refuses to wear a mask during Senate votes. In the House, many of Trump's Republican allies decline to wear masks at hearings or during House floor proceedings.
Pelosi required lawmakers to wear masks for all in-person House committee hearings.
But last Friday, as the nation's was recording highest one-day tallies of new cases, several GOP lawmakers refused to wear masks at a coronavirus hearing.
On Monday, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the chairman of the select committee on the coronavirus, said he would no longer call on lawmakers to speak during committee hearings unless the follow the physician's guidance to wear a mask.
“My Republican colleagues’ refusal to wear masks is perplexing because you have asked repeatedly to hold in-person hearings, and you assured me that this could be done safely,” Clyburn wrote in a letter to colleagues. “I told you that I would work in good faith to hold in-person hearings if we could do so safely and consistent with the Attending Physician’s guidelines."