ALLENTOWN, Pa. (Reuters) - Without wearing a face mask himself, President Donald Trump toured a mask distribution center in Pennsylvania on Thursday and announced plans to replenish the U.S. strategic stockpile of medical equipment depleted by the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump, a Republican who is running for re-election in November, has resisted wearing a mask in public despite his administration’s guidance to Americans to wear them and new White House rules requiring that staff wear them at work.
The president toured the Owens & Minor Inc distribution center, which the White House said has sent millions of N95 masks, surgical gowns and gloves to hospitals and surgery centers across the United States. Company officials wore masks.
Trump visited a mask production facility in Arizona last week, when he also did not wear a face covering, though he said he tried some on backstage.
Pennsylvania is a political swing state wooed by both Republicans and Democrats in presidential elections. Though the Thursday event was arranged by the White House, it had campaign overtones, with music similar to what is played at Trump’s rallies and a pejorative reference by the president to his expected Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Trump accused the Obama administration of allowing the stockpile to be depleted. Trump has been in office for three years; the coronavirus outbreak started hitting the United States earlier this year.
Trump said his administration would seek to have three months’ worth of supplies on reserve rather than one to three weeks’ worth.
“I’m determined that America will be fully prepared for any of the future outbreaks, of which we hope there’s going to be none,” he said during remarks after his tour.
The president has previously sought to downplay the possibility of the coronavirus returning in the fall, though doctors have said it is very likely.
A senior administration official told reporters earlier on Thursday that the Trump administration was seeking to add 300 million N95 masks, the respiratory protective devices that are key to protecting medical workers fighting the deadly coronavirus, to the U.S. stockpile by the fall.
The official said the administration hoped ultimately to replenish its strategic national stockpile, which had only 13 million N95s at the beginning of the outbreak, to 1 billion in total.
The administration is seeking to shore up medical supplies as part of a bid to prepare for future flare-ups of coronavirus cases, as states nationwide begin to reopen after lockdowns aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.
Reporting by Steve Holland; additional reporting by Alexandra Alper and Jeff Mason; writing by Jeff Mason; Editing by Leslie Adler
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