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Opinion: Making face masks great again

President Trump wears a face mask on July 11 during a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

Who says you can’t teach an old president new tricks?

After months of refusing to wear a face mask in public and making fun of people who did, President Trump is suddenly a big fan. This is quite the reversal from a man who suggested that people who wear masks were doing so as a political statement against him, which of course is more important that protecting oneself from a deadly infection.

It took only a few weeks of pleading, cajoling and shaming by scientists, prominent members of his own political party and the random editorial writer for him to see the wisdom of following the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and pretty much every other infectious disease authority on the planet for how to protect against a COVID-19 infection.

It was a slow transition. In early July he dipped a toe in, saying “masks are good.” Perhaps because he didn’t get backlash from the base and did get some praise, he appeared in public masked up for the first time on July 11 during a visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. And this week, Trump became a full-blown convert, tweeting out a photo of himself wearing a manly, black mask sporting a presidential seal on Monday. “Many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance. There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President!” he wrote in the tweet.

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Good for him. Better late than never.

At his first reconstituted daily coronavirus briefing on Tuesday, the president was asked about his newfound enthusiasm for this simple form of protection. “I’ve always agreed with that,” Trump said. Hmmm. That’s not the way I remember it, but whatever. I already made peace with the fact that he might need to revise recent history in order to get with the mask program.

And, it seems, he really has. That was not the only thing the president had to say Tuesday about wearing face masks. “I have no problem with the masks. I view it this way: Anything that potentially can help is a good thing,” he declared, adding that he carries a mask and wears it when appropriate, such as when he is an elevator with other people. But apparently not at fundraisers. Well, let’s consider this a work in progress.

And it must be. Until we get a COVID-19 vaccine, basic infection control measures such as handwashing, social distancing and keeping our mouths and noses covered in public are all we have. Yet too many Americans appeared to have followed the cues from Trump and rejected face masks as statements of political solidarity. Hopefully, this will change some minds.

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And maybe it already has. Consider this: In recent weeks, big retailers such as Kroger and Target have adopted nationwide policies requiring that customers wear face coverings while in their stores. (They would have preferred a nationwide mask policy, which is still a good idea.)

One retailer took the opposite approach, however. As recently as last week, the policy of Southeastern Grocers, which operates the Winn-Dixie chain of grocery stores, was that customers could do what they wanted. Just hours after Trump declared that wearing a face mask was an act of patriotism, the company changed its policy. Now, face masks are required.

Also new is the president’s tone on the coronavirus. Though he still maintains that one day it will disappear, he now allows that it might be longer than a few days. And until then, he said, “it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

For once, something we agree on.


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