The scene at the final night of the Republican National Convention was concerning to virologists, to political analysts, and apparently to at least one person at Fox News, which reported that “few attendees at the White House event appeared to be wearing masks, and most of the spectators sat closer to one another than the recommended social distancing length of six feet.”
First, let’s take a brief tour of the masks that were on display.
Here is a photo of former White House press secretary Sean Spicer and his conservative talk show co-host Lyndsay Keith wearing masks:
Here is Pennsylvania Rep. Glenn Thompson and his wife, both wearing masks:
These official Trump masks (not to be confused with official MAGA masks or Trump gaiters) appear in the campaign’s online store next to the copy “Let’s Keep America Safe!” That message didn’t come across Thursday, nor earlier in the week in Charlotte, North Carolina, where some of the official business of the convention took place. “I think we all felt safe and secure and that’s why some people had [a mask] on, and some didn’t,” South Carolina delegate Glenn McCall said earlier this week of the GOP’s indoor gathering in Charlotte, where masking was also inconsistent. As of Friday, four people who were there have tested positive for the virus.
To mask or not to mask on the night of the lawn gathering was a real dilemma for North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, whose face was covered at the beginning of the night:
But during the speech itself, Tillis took it off, which he then apologized for on Friday, the Charlotte Observer reports. “I’ve stressed the importance of mask wearing throughout this pandemic and have tried to lead by example on this issue, but last night I fell short of my own standard,” Tillis—who is in a tight race to keep his Senate seat—said in a statement.
CNN reporters were wearing masks, but that’s too boring to spend more time on.
And here are some senior administration officials. Only Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is wearing a mask:
Among the hordes of folks on the lawn, you can spot a few masks—if you look very closely:
Of the 25 people whose mouths and/or ears are visible, three are wearing face coverings. If we consider this crowd shot to be a rough, random sample of the night’s attendees (debatable, but let’s go with it), that means about 10 percent of people on the lawn were wearing masks. In the photo at the top of this article—which features the most masks of any I could find from Thursday night—mask usage is, by my count, just north of 15 percent.
Yes, the speech took place outside, which does lower the risk of coronavirus transmission considerably. Protests that involve crowds of people have taken place without subsequent identifiable spikes in cases, though protests have also involved lots of mask wearing and social distancing. It’s plainly silly and needlessly dangerous to gather a large, seated crowd and not put more distance between chairs!
On Thursday night, the White House lawn was basically a nightmare of individualism, in which the vast majority of people were not wearing masks and those who were placed themselves in an otherwise inadvisable situation anyway. As even masks stans will note, it is not enough to simply cover your face if you want to stay healthy during an airborne pandemic; one has to do things like avoid tight crowds of unmasked people—particularly people who, like the evening’s final speaker, may not have spent the last few months taking this pandemic seriously.