Pence says he should have worn face mask at Mayo Clinic

Vice President Mike Pence visits Dennis Nelson, a recovered COVID-19 disease patient who is now donating his blood for research on the virus and disease as Pence tours Mayo Clinic facilities supporting coronavirus disease (COVID-19) research and treatment in Rochester, Minnesota, U.S., April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Sunday that he erred in not wearing a face mask during a visit with patients at the Mayo Clinic last month.

The decision by Pence not to wear a mask was slammed by critics, who said it undermined efforts to slow the spread of the respiratory virus that has caused more than 67,000 deaths in the United States. Pence heads the Trump administration’s anti-coronavirus effort.

During an appearance at a town hall event with President Donald Trump on Fox News, Pence said that while he did not believe he posed a risk to others, he still should have worn the mask required of other patients and visitors at the healthcare facility in Minnesota.

“I didn’t think it was necessary, but I should have worn a mask at the Mayo Clinic,” he said.

Pence was photographed during the April visit as the lone person not wearing a face mask alongside patients and healthcare professionals. He previously defended the decision, citing U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that say a mask primarily serves to prevent wearers from spreading the infection, not from guarding against it.

Pence had said he and Trump were frequently tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and was confident he did not pose a risk.

On Sunday, he added that beyond its public health purpose, wearing the mask carried important symbolic weight as well.

“It’s really a statement about the American people, the way they have been willing to step forward, practice social distancing and wear masks in settings where they can’t do that,” he said.

Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Peter Cooney