Masks for some White House staffers, but none for Trump, as mixed messages continue

Photos show the impact of what experts say is a simple but critical precaution.

May 12, 2020, 7:51 AM

Even as the coronavirus has infected two staffers inside the White House West Wing, including a personal valet who brought Diet Cokes to him in the Oval Office, President Donald Trump has not been photographed wearing a mask, as he continues to disregard warnings from health experts.

An unidentified valet places a glass of soda on President Donald Trump's desk as he engages in an interview with Reuters during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response at the White House, April 29, 2020.
Carlos Barria/Reuters

Over the weekend, when he held a meeting Saturday with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the relatively tight quarters of the Cabinet Room, no one wore masks -- except, notably, the Secret Service agents standing in the background, charged with protecting him.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump meets with military leaders and national security team in the Cabinet Room of the White House, May 9, 2020.
President Donald Trump flanked by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley (3rd from right) and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Hyten, right, meets with military leaders and national security team in the Cabinet Room of the White House, May 9, 2020.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

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President Donald Trump points as he and first lady Melania Trump greet a group of World War II veterans during a Victory in Europe Day 75th anniversary ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Washington, May 8, 2020.
Tom Brenner/Reuters

And he didn't wear one on Friday when he marked VE Day with World War II veterans in their 90s.

Members of the White House staff and the U.S. Secret Service stand along the West Wing colonnade prior to President Donald Trump holding a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak press briefing in the Rose Garden at the White House, May 11, 2020.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Then, on Monday afternoon, the White House issued a new directive saying anyone entering or working in the West Wing, near the Oval Office, was required to wear a mask. A couple of hours later, during the president's Rose Garden news conference, many staffers could be seen wearing masks.

White House senior advisor to the president Jared Kushner wears a protective face mask in the Rose Garden before President Donald Trump holds a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak response press briefing at the White House, May 11, 2020.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was spotted wearing one -- a photographic first for a top official inside the White House complex.

President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak response briefing in the Rose Garden at the White House, May 11, 2020.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Asked about the scene, Trump said, "Just about everybody has a face mask on. They've learned about face masks, the good and the bad. By the way, it's not a one-sided thing, believe it or not, but our country has learned, our country has been incredible," Trump said, without explaining what he meant.

And why had it taken so long -- 30 days after the CDC guidance -- and why wasn't he wearing one? Because people didn't get that close to him, he said, adding he gave the order.

PHOTO: A customer has her temperature tested prior to entering the Apple Store at Bondi Junction on May 07, 2020, in Sydney.
A customer has her temperature tested prior to entering the Apple Store at Bondi Junction on May 07, 2020, in Sydney. Apple stores across Australia reopened on Thursday, after closing temporarily in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Meanwhile, ordinary Americans are being told to wear masks -- and some governors have mandated them inside grocery stores, nail salons and the like.

A worker paints a woman's nails at a nail salon amid the coronavirus pandemic in Austin, Texas, May 8, 2020, following a slow reopening of the Texas economy.
Sergio Flores/AFP via Getty Images

While many have been doing so, others go without, often in protests Trump has encouraged.

People gather near Huntington Beach Pier to protest Gov. Gavin Newsom's order to temporarily close state and local beaches in Orange County, during the outbreak of the coronavirus virus, in Huntington Beach, California, U.S., May 1, 2020.
Kyle Grillot/Reuters

So, the public may have gotten a confusing, mixed message from the president -- and from Vice President Mike Pence, who was noticeably not wearing a mask on a Friday trip to Iowa, just a short time after his close aide, press secretary Katie Miller, had tested positive.

Vice President Mike Pence listens to a question from Temple B'nai Jeshurun Rabbi David Kaufman during a discussion with local faith leaders, May 8, 2020, in Urbandale, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall/AP

He did keep his social distance at an event with faith leaders, encouraging them to resume in-person church services, where a rabbi wore a mask but others didn't.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a visit to the General Motors Ventec ventilator production facility with Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb in Kokomo, Ind., April 30, 2020.
Michael Conroy/AP

About a week ago, Pence did make a point of wearing a mask when he visited a General Motors plant making ventilators in Indiana.

Vice President Mike Pence, not wearing a mask, tours Mayo Clinic facilities supporting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) research and treatment, in Rochester, Minn., April 28, 2020.
Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters

That was two days after, having faced public rebuke for not wearing a mask while visiting COVID-19 patients at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, he conceded he'd been wrong, saying he didn't think he had to because he was tested regularly.

Health experts say the problem with that thinking, echoed by the White House on behalf of the president, is that you can test negative one day and then be positive the next, depending on exposure, even without symptoms -- and it's likely you could infect someone else -- if not wearing a mask.

Late Monday, a senior administration official said Pence work a mask while working in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, but said he didn't go to the White House.

New Yorkers in Prospect Park during nice weekend weather as social distancing guidelines remain in place to limit the spread of coronavirus on May 2, 2020 in New York City.
Yana Paskova/Getty Images

Over the weekend, thousands of Americans, as they have been doing, ventured outside in the warmer spring weather -- a mix of those wearing masks -- and those who weren't.

US President Donald Trump looks on during a meeting with military leaders and his national security team in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC on May 9, 2020.
Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, on Monday, The Federalist, an influential conservative news outlet the president has often re-tweeted, published an article arguing, "President Trump needs to exhibit strength and leadership in this crisis, he can't do that from behind a mask."

ABC News' Ben Gittleson and Jordyn Phelps contributed to this report.

This report was featured in the Tuesday, May 12, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

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