WASHINGTON (CN) — With over 140,000 people in the U.S. dead from Covid-19, President Donald Trump encouraged Americans to wear face masks Tuesday during his first White House coronavirus briefing in 85 days.
“It will probably unfortunately get worse before it gets better,” Trump told masked reporters gathered at the White House on Tuesday evening, suggesting people “put on the mask” if they’re close together.
“In theory you don’t need the mask. I’m used to the mask. The reason is, think about patriotism. Maybe it helps. It helps. We have experts that have said in the recent past that masks aren’t exactly good to wear, you know that. But now they’ve changed their mind,” the president said.
When the pandemic began to unfold in America at a rapid pace in March, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading member of the White House coronavirus taskforce, suggested uniform mask wearing was not necessary.
The Trump administration’s own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. surgeon general and the World Health Organization said the same thing at the time as the world’s understanding of how the virus spread was still being formulated.
The CDC did not issue its direction to wear face coverings or masks in public until April, right around the time the agency finally issued return-to-work guidelines that were widely panned by health experts as inadequate.
Tuesday’s short briefing featured a solo Trump without taskforce members like Fauci or Dr. Deborah Birx accompanying him. The president began with his prepared remarks advocating mask wearing in language markedly more measured than in previous briefings.
“We’re asking everybody that when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask. Get a mask. Whether you like the mask or not, they have an impact. They’ll have an effect and we need everything we can get,” he said.
Trump also said he is tested for the virus every two to three days, contradicting a claim from White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany earlier Tuesday that the president is tested every day.
In response to questions from reporters about why he has not donned a face mask in public more often, Trump fished one with a presidential seal from his pocket and said that he wears it when he is in a group or on an elevator.
“I want to protect them also. I put on a mask. I have no problem with a mask. I view it this way: anything that potentially can help and certainly can potentially help is a good thing. I have no problem. I carry it. I wear it. You saw me wearing it a number of times and I’ll continue,” he said.
The president also praised the current national testing capacity. Testing has been an uphill slog since the pandemic began with access to tests and results being delayed.
The U.S. only hit a range of about 500,000 to 700,000 tests administered per day in June, according to the Covid Tracking Project. Johns Hopkins University reports that 3.8 million Americans have been infected with Covid-19 and 141,000 have died as of Tuesday afternoon.
With former massive virus hotspots like New York and California gradually reining in infections, capacity is improving. But in states like Arizona, Texas and Florida – where social distancing restrictions were lifted early by state officials and mask mandates narrowly enforced at best – testing capacity is floundering.
Trump said he will receive a presentation soon on whether the federal government will fork over billions more to assist states with testing.
With the November election just 105 days away, reporters also asked the president whether he felt voters would judge him on the ballot for how he has handled the pandemic.
“The American people will judge us on this and on the economy I created. I am already creating and setting record job numbers. And we’ll have a very strong year next year and a very strong third and fourth quarter,” Trump said.
Thirty-two million Americans are currently jobless. At a hearing last month, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell told Congress he expected the economy to continue to struggle in the third and fourth quarters so long as the pandemic recovery is slow.