Claim: President Donald Trump has claimed that masks are unnecessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as long as people receive frequent testing. Consequently, he refuses to wear masks at public events or to institute a national mask mandate.
Rating: This claim is FALSE. Public health experts, including experts in the Trump administration, state that masks are a powerful weapon to protect against COVID-19. Despite testing staffers daily for COVID-19, Trump, along with the First Lady and several top Trump advisors (all of whom do not wear masks regularly), have now contracted COVID-19. On Oct. 2, Trump was hospitalized for his illness and began receiving treatment. Currently, COVID-19 has killed over 214,000 Americans.
Throughout the pandemic, Trump has claimed that masks are unnecessary to prevent COVID-19 infections. He has refused to wear a mask in public media settings because he “didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.” Although he has occasionally worn a mask, he has also strongly discouraged Americans from wearing masks, claiming that they give wearers a false sense of security.
This advice directly contradicts public health experts, including experts in the Trump administration like Center for Disease Control director Robert Redfield, who stated that cloth face coverings are one of the “most powerful weapons we have to slow and stop the spread of the virus” and that masks may offer more protection than a vaccine.
Masks both prevent an infectious person from spreading COVID-19 to others via the droplets from their nose and mouth, and it also protects healthy people from becoming seriously ill from the virus. Public health agencies and research universities, like Johns Hopkins, continue to recommend wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
As of September 2020, 127 countries have mandated the universal usage of face masks. The United States is not one of those countries, though former Vice President Joe Biden has promised that if elected president, he would listen to health experts and support a national mask mandate.
According to a Cornell University study, misinformation about COVID-19 is “serious threat to global public health,” because it misleads and prevents people from following official health advice and could contribute to the spread of disease. The Cornell study analyzed 38 million English-language articles on COVID-19 and found that Trump is the “largest driver” of COVID-19 misinformation.
Trump relies on earlier recommendations by public health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, who advised the general public not to wear masks at the start of the pandemic to prevent a mask shortage in hospitals. Although Fauci reversed his previous advice, Trump continued to cite this earlier guidance as a reason to not wear masks. When asked about whether he believed masks were effective during the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, Trump again pointed out that Dr. Fauci once recommended against masks. He also mocked Biden for wearing a mask in public.
Trump has claimed that he does not need to wear a mask because his staffers receive daily testing. But daily testing practice does not prevent COVID-19 infections, especially in the White House where it is impossible for staffers to socially distance because of cramped offices.
White House staffers use a rapid testing device, manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, that can give false negative results; a person can be infectious for several days before the virus in their body will register positive on a test. A New York University study found that the Abbott test could be misidentifying between a third and half of positive cases as negative.
On Oct. 2, Trump tested positive for COVID-19, along with First Lady Melania Trump and 33 close advisors. He was hospitalized with a fever, cough, and fatigue, and has begun several courses of experimental treatment. Currently, COVID-19 has killed over 214,000 Americans.
Conclusion: The claim that masks are not necessary to prevent COVID-19, as long as people are frequently tested, has been determined to be FALSE. Although Trump and his staffers are tested daily for COVID-19, their refusal to wear masks has likely contributed to the recent outbreak of infections that have affected Trump, the First Lady, and top advisors. Meanwhile, no one in the Biden campaign has been infected by COVID-19, arguably because of their consistent mask wearing and social distancing.