Pence's wife says he was unaware of mask policy during visit

WASHINGTON (AP) — Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, is defending his decision to not wear a mask during a recent visit to the Mayo Clinic, saying he was unaware of the hospital's coronavirus policy until after he left.

In an appearance on Fox News Channel on Thursday morning, Mrs. Pence said the vice president was following the advice of medical experts and hadn't intended to offend anyone. Pence, like other senior White House staff, is tested for the virus at least once a week.

“As our medical experts have told us, wearing a mask prevents you from spreading the disease. And knowing that he doesn’t have COVID-19, he didn’t wear one," Mrs. Pence said, adding that it “was actually after he left Mayo Clinic that he found out that they had a policy of asking everyone to wear a mask.”

“So, you know, someone who's worked on this whole task force for over two months is not someone who would have done anything to offend anyone or hurt anyone or scare anyone,” she said.

The Mayo Clinic had tweeted — then deleted — that it had informed the vice president of its "masking policy prior to his arrival.”

“Mayo shared the masking policy with the VP’s office,” the health care system later said in its response.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Americans wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as in supermarkets, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

Pence toured the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, on Tuesday. Footage of the visit showed him mask-less as he met with an employee who had recovered from the virus, visited a lab where Mayo conducts coronavirus tests and during a roundtable discussion on Mayo’s coronavirus testing and research programs.

Pence explained his decision that day by stressing that he has been frequently tested for the virus.

“As vice president of the United States I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus,” Pence said. “And since I don’t have the coronavirus, I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health care personnel, and look them in the eye and say ‘thank you.’”

President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed discomfort about mask-wearing, saying he did not intend to wear one when the CDC's recommendations were unveiled. And most senior staff have followed his lead, at least when they're in the White House.

People who enter the White House complex have their temperature taken, and those who will be in close proximity to the president and the vice president are given rapid COVID-19 tests to ensure they're not infectious.

Senior staff also are given tests on a rolling basis, so that infections are quickly detected.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. It has infected more than 1 million people in the United States, and more than 60,000 have died, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.