Masks and Optics

Yesterday’s news was filled with images of Vice President Pence visiting the Mayo Clinic – and its COVID-19 patients, sans face mask.
Pence at Mayo Clinic
I don’t get it.  

He was quoted as saying, “As vice president of the United States, I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus.”  I understand that, and fully support the frequent testing of high-level government officials (even though testing is difficult for us peons)

Pence has flouted his own administration’s guidance, as well as Mayo Clinic protocol.  The CDC recommends masks, as well as social distancing.  The guidance is for the protection of the mask-wearer, and those around the mask-wearer.  It’s a two-way street.  The Mayo Clinic has a rule that all visitors must wear masks.  (Note:  that’s “must,” not a “should.”)  From the photographs and videos publicly available, Pence ignored both mask rules and social distancing.  The Mayo Clinic’s site states that it “is requiring all patients and visitors to wear a face covering or mask to help slow the spread of COVID-19″.  The Mayo Clinic advised Pence and his office of its rule, although it’s curious as to why they would have to do so.  Doh.  Why would Mayo even have to tell him the common-sense rule?  

While at Mayo, Pence stated:  “Since I don’t have the coronavirus, I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers these incredible health-care personnel and look them in the eye and say thank you”.  I’ve been wearing a mask for several weeks, and have not had any problem with looking someone in the eye, to say thank you or anything else. 

The whole situation is a grotesque slap in the face:
  • It’s an insult to health care workers;
  • It’s directly contrary to Mayo Clinic’s rules;
  • It’s a horrible signal to the populace, who need encouragement (WAY too many people are going mask-less – they now have a good excuse);
  • It’s selfish and disrespectful;
  • It portrays a “do as I say, not as I do” approach.
The question is:  Why did he make this poor choice?  I don’t like his politics, but I used to be much more comfortable with Pence than with his boss.  He seems to think (or pretends he does).  He seems knowledgeable, and I much appreciate (generally) his measured responses to questions.  (Yes, I acknowledge that he often dodges them, and his speeches are too frequently tinged with Our Great Leader-type references.)  He had seemed respectful. But I’d much rather have him in charge than the Orange One. 

So why would he do it?

I hope someday someone who knows the back story will write a tell-all book.  But my theory is that he did it for one reason:  Trump told him to do so, and Pence has no backbone.  Trump, through Pence, has flipped his middle finger at the Mayo Clinic, at the CDC, at Drs. Fauci and Birx.  And at all of us.

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