WH press secretary says she'll attend Trump's Tulsa rally, but won't wear a mask

David Knowles
·Editor

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Friday that she would be among the administration officials attending President Trump’s reelection rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday, but she will not be wearing a mask recommended to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“It’s a personal choice. I won’t be wearing a mask and I can’t speak for my colleagues,” McEnany said of her plans.

Asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta whether she was forgoing a mask out of deference to the president, who has disdained them, McEnany said she was confident that she was not infected by the virus.

“It’s a personal decision. I’m tested regularly,” she said. “I feel that it’s safe for me not to be wearing a mask and I’m in compliance with CDC guidelines, which are recommended but not required.”

Seconds before her explanation, CDC Director Robert Redfield posted a message on Twitter advising Americans to wear masks to “help slow the spread” of COVID-19.

Health experts are warning that Trump’s rally, which will pack nearly 20,000 attendees into Tulsa’s Bank of Oklahoma Center, represents a perfect storm for the transmission of COVID-19. The CDC has cautioned against attending “large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.” The agency also recommends face coverings at events where people are inclined to shout or chant.

On Friday afternoon, the Oklahoma state Supreme Court denied a request to compel the management of the BOK Center to enforce “mandatory social distancing guidelines,” including a requirement to wear a face mask, at Saturday’s rally. That ruling clears the way for the rally to go forward over the objections from local businesses that had characterized it as a “super spreader event.”

Asked if there was any concern among White House staffers about going forward with the rally despite a spike in COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma and in Tulsa County, McEnany assured reporters that the Trump campaign was taking necessary health precautions.

“We are all on board with going to Oklahoma. We’re taking, you know, appropriate measures like hand sanitizing and temperature checks and masks being provided at the door,” McEnany said. “But I’d also note to you from the governor of Oklahoma that he says the most of the cases he’s seeing are in the 18-35 group, where they’re seeing a slight increase and they are asymptomatic individuals that they’re seeing.”

Despite its assurances that the rally in Tulsa will be safe, the Trump campaign required that those seeking tickets to the event completed an online liability waiver acknowledging the “inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19.” The campaign also said this week that more than a million people had done so.

During a briefing on Wednesday, McEnany announced that White House staff members would no longer be required to wear masks while at work. Following an outbreak in May that infected multiple staffers, the White House ordered all employees to wear masks, though compliance was short-lived and uneven.

Kayleigh McEnany
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images)

Face coverings have become a political flashpoint in the U.S. thanks in part to the statements issued by the president himself.

In a Thursday interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump was asked whether he thought some people wear masks as a protest directed at him.

“Masks are a double-edge sword. People touch them. And they grab them and I see it all the time. They come in, they take the mask. Now they’re holding it now in their fingers. And they drop it on the desk and then they touch their eye and they touch their nose,” Trump replied. “No, I think a mask is a … it’s a double-edged sword. It’s a double-edged sword. I see Biden. It’s like his whole face is covered. It’s like he put a knapsack over his face. He probably likes it that way. He feels good that way because he does. He seems to feel good in a mask, you know, feels better than he does without the mask, which is a strange situation.”

Pressed on whether he viewed mask wearing as a protest against him, Trump continued:

“It could be, yeah. It could be. But it could also be they feel better about it.”

Citing the rise in the number of cases in recent days and the continued spread of COVID-19 by infected people who display no symptoms, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order Thursday requiring residents to wear face coverings.

On Friday, AMC Theatres, the nation’s largest movie theater chain, reversed course and announced it would require patrons to wear face masks when it reopens in mid-July.

“We think it is absolutely crucial that we listen to our guests,” CEO Adam Aron said. “It is clear from this response that we did not go far enough on the usage of masks.”

In a Thursday interview with Variety, Aron sparked a public backlash for saying the chain would not require masks so as not to offend those who did not think it was “necessary.”

“We did not want to be drawn into a political controversy,” Aron said. “We thought it might be counterproductive if we forced mask wearing on those people who believe strongly that it is not necessary.”

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