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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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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