Vice President Mike Pence, the White House’s coronavirus point person, offered some of the most pointed comments of the Republican National Convention on the outbreak, vowing on Wednesday night that the U.S. would develop a successful vaccine before the end of the year.
But just moments after presenting himself as a reassuring authority on the raging virus, the maskless vice president, along with President Donald Trump, walked over to greet the mostly mask-free members of the audience, who crowded close to each other on the grounds of Fort McHenry in Baltimore.
The lack of masks and social distancing served as a jarring contrast. And it reaffirmed that while Trump and Pence belatedly accepted public health experts’ recommendations on face coverings and distancing, they are still eager to embrace their base’s skepticism of such precautions.
As the headliner of the penultimate night of the convention, Pence hailed the administration’s response to the virus, and rejected the notion that “no miracle” would save the country from a virus that has already killed nearly 180,000 Americans.
The vice president mourned that loss, praised frontline workers as “heroic,” and vowed that the U.S. would deliver on its promise of a vaccine.
“I’m proud to report that we’re on track to have the world’s first safe, effective coronavirus vaccine by the end of this year,” Pence declared.
Pence lamented that the pandemic had forced the postponement of his youngest daughter’s wedding. Then he shouted out his 87-year-old mother who sat, sans mask, among the crowd of around 100.
Nancy Pence wasn’t alone — Maryland’s mask mandate, which requires a face covering even while outdoors, where transmission is less likely, doesn’t extend to federal property like Fort McHenry, and hardly any attendees appeared to be wearing a mask.
After the speech, Pence and Trump walked over to greet maskless members of the audience, keeping some distance and remaining on the other side of a waist-high barrier between guests and the stage. Pence could be seen fist bumping one member of the audience, as other attendees milled about the space.
It’s unclear whether there is any testing protocol for attendees.
According to Reuters White House reporter Jeff Mason, guests for the speech told reporters they had not been tested for the coronavirus prior to the event.
Several attendees said they’d been given temperature checks before entering the fort and one audience member indicated they’d gotten a coronavirus test, according to a pool report, although it wasn’t clear whether that was specifically for Pence’s speech.
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