Ronny Jackson, a Republican congressional candidate in Texas and the former physician to the president, said Wednesday that Americans should not be required to wear masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“I think that wearing a mask is a personal choice, and I don’t particularly want my government telling me that I have to wear a mask. And so I think that’s a choice that I can make,” Jackson told “Fox & Friends.”
The remarks from Jackson, a retired Navy rear admiral who served as the personal doctor for Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, not only contradict the universal guidance of public health experts, but also undermine Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — who has mandated that most of his state’s residents wear a mask in public.
Amid a resurgence of coronavirus infections across the South and West, the Republican governor imposed a statewide mask order this month, demanding Texans in counties with more than 20 Covid-19 cases cover their faces when social distancing is not possible.
Virtually all federal health officials have also implored Americans to wear masks as the United States reports record numbers of new cases. CDC Director Robert Redfield said Tuesday the country “can bring this epidemic under control” in as few as one to two months “if we can get everybody to wear a mask right now.”
But Jackson argued Wednesday that Americans should “look at your personal circumstances” and “look at your surroundings” to determine whether mask-wearing is “right for you.”
“I’m a firm believer that that’s, at this point, a personal choice,” he said. “And I encourage people, if they want to wear a mask, to wear a mask. But I don’t wear a mask all that often, to be honest with you.”
The president’s former physician came to public prominence in 2018 when Trump tapped him to become Secretary of Veterans Affairs. But his nomination was derailed by controversy after Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) released allegations that Jackson had overprescribed pills and drank on the job.
Jackson’s apparent aversion to masks underscores the extent to which they have become politicized during the public health crisis, in large part due to the president’s reluctance to model the personal mitigation measure and past statements minimizing the coronavirus’ threat.
Jackson was victorious Tuesday in the Republican primary for Texas’ 13th District, a seat currently occupied by retiring Republican Rep. Mac Thornberry. Trump endorsed Jackson, who will face Democratic nominee Gus Trujillo, in November’s general election.
Trump wore a mask publicly for the first time Saturday during a visit to Walter Reed National Medical Center after significant pressure from Republican lawmakers and even some conservative media commentators.
Just two weeks ago, as coronavirus caseloads continued to soar, Trump told Fox Business that he was “all for masks,” and he said in an interview Tuesday with CBS News that he would urge Americans to wear a mask “if it’s necessary.”