Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday)


As virus cases, deaths rise, prez finally dons mask during visit to military hospital, but it’s unclear whether he will continue to wear one


WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump wore a mask during a visit to a military hospital on Saturday, the first time the president has been seen in public with the type of facial covering recommende­d by health officials as a precaution against spreading or becoming infected by the novel coronaviru­s.

Trump flew by helicopter to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in suburban Washington to meet wounded servicemem­bers and health care providers caring for COVID-19 patients. As he left the White House, he told reporters: “When you’re in a hospital, especially . . . I think it’s a great thing to wear a mask.”

Trump was wearing a mask in Walter Reed’s hallway as he began his visit. He was not wearing one when he stepped off the helicopter at the facility.

The president was a latecomer to wearing a mask during the pandemic, which has raged across the U.S. since March and infected more than 3.2 million and killed at least 134,000. Most prominent Republican­s, including Vice President Mike Pence, endorsed wearing masks as the coronaviru­s gained ground this summer. Republican governors have been moving toward requiring or encouragin­g the use of masks as the pandemic has grown more serious in some states in the South and West.

Trump, however, has declined to wear a mask at news conference­s, coronaviru­s task force updates, rallies and other public events. People close to him have told The Associated Press that the president feared a mask would make him look weak and was concerned that it shifted focus to the public health crisis rather than the economic recovery. They spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private matters.

While not wearing one himself, Trump has sent mixed signals about masks, acknowledg­ing that they would be appropriat­e if worn in an indoor setting where people were close together. But he has accused reporters of wearing them to be politicall­y correct and has retweeted messages making fun of Democrat Joe Biden for wearing a mask and implying that Biden looks weak.

Questions remain whether Trump will wear a mask with any regularity.

The only time Trump has been known to wear a mask was during a private part of a tour of a Ford plant in Michigan.

Virus deaths on rise again

Meanwhile, a long-expected upturn in U.S. coronaviru­s deaths has begun, driven by fatalities in states in the South and West, according to data on the pandemic.

The number of deaths per day from the virus had been falling for months, and even remained down as states like Florida and Texas saw explosions in cases and hospitaliz­ations — and reported daily U.S. infections broke records several times in recent days.

Scientists warned it wouldn’t last. A coronaviru­s death, when it occurs, typically comes several weeks after a person is first infected. And experts predicted states that saw increases in cases and hospitaliz­ations would, at some point, see deaths rise too. Now that’s happening.

“It’s consistent­ly picking up. And it’s picking up at the time you’d expect it to,” said William Hanage, a Harvard University infectious diseases researcher.

According to an Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average for daily reported deaths in the U.S. has increased from 578 two weeks ago to 664 on July 10 — still well below the heights hit in April.

Researcher­s now expect deaths to rise for at least some weeks, but some think the count probably will not go up as dramatical­ly as it did in the spring — for several reasons.

First, testing was limited early in the pandemic, and it has become clear that unrecogniz­ed infections were spreading on subways, in nursing homes and in other public places before anyone knew what was going on. Now testing is more widespread, and the magnitude of outbreaks is becoming better understood.

Second, many people’s health behaviors have changed, with mask-wearing becoming more common in some places. Although there is no vaccine yet, hospitals are also getting better at treating patients.

Another factor, tragically, is that deadly new viruses often tear through vulnerable population­s first, such as the elderly and people already weakened by other health conditions. That means that, in the Northeast at least, “many of the vulnerable people have already died,” said Perry Halkitis, the dean of the Rutgers University School of Public Health.

Now, the U.S. is likely in for “a much longer, slower burn,” Hanage said. “We’re not going to see as many deaths [as in the spring]. But we’re going to see a total number of deaths, which is going to be large.”

 ?? PATRICK SEMANSKY/AP ?? President Donald Trump wears a face mask during a visit Saturday to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
PATRICK SEMANSKY/AP President Donald Trump wears a face mask during a visit Saturday to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

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