Donald Trump departs for his golf club in Steling Virginia – Jim Lo Scalzo/Shutterstock
Donald Trump was accused of violating official public health guidelines after he was pictured shaking hands with his opponent while playing golf without a face mask.
Mr Trump was pictured enjoying his first round on a green since March 8 at his own Virgian golf course on Saturday. It came as the US coronavirus death toll approached 100,000.
His behaviour appeared to flout recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control, the federal organisation that oversees the national epidemic response.
“There’s clear scientific evidence to show that a mask does prevent droplets from reaching others,” Deborah Birx, the White House virus task force coordinator, told Fox News Sunday
“Out of respect for each other, as Americans that care for each other, we need to be wearing masks in public when we cannot socially distance.”
She added Mr Trump did wear a mask when unable to maintain social distancing.
“I’m not with him every day and every moment so I don’t know if he can maintain social distance. I’ve asked everybody independently to really make sure you wear a mask if you can’t maintain the six feet.
“I’m assuming that in a majority of cases he’s able to maintain that six feet distance.”
Tom Bossert, a former homeland security adviser to Mr Trump, said his decision not to wear a mask in public was ill-judged.
“Do as I say not as I do isn’t very useful,” he told ABC’s This Week.
It was the second time in a matter of days that the president has appeared in public without a mask, having declined to do so while visiting a Ford factory in Michigan which had been manufacturing ventilators.
Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr Deborah Birx
Mike DeWine, the Republican governor of Ohio, tried to defuse the controversy.
“This is not about politics, this is not about whether you’re liberal or conservative, left or right, Republican, Democrat,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press.
“We wear the mask, and it’s been very clear what the studies have shown, you wear the mask not to protect yourself so much as to protect others. And this is one time when we truly are all in this together.”
The row over Mr Trump’s reluctance to wear a mask came as the president sided with religious leaders against governors who continued to ban in-person services.
On Friday Mr Trump threatened to override governors – although it was unclear how he planned to do so.
US Attorney General William Barr has said that governors should treat secular and religious institutions in the same way.
The president described churches and houses of worship as “essential”, although public health agencies have advised against gatherings of more than 10 people.
In doing so Mr Trump has thrown his authority behind conservative Christian voters who have been among his most loyal supporters.
In California a federal court upheld governor Gavin Newsom’s temporary ban on religious gatherings.
Pastors in several states have defied governors by holding services.
Last week the Centers for Disease Control said that 38 people who attended an Arkansas service in March contracted the virus with three worshippers dying.
It updated its guidance to churches suggesting that they should hold services outside and limit the size of congregations to allow for social distancing.
Beaches and beauty spots were crowded as Americans enjoyed the Memorial Day Weekend, which marks the start of summer in the US.
With restrictions gradually being eased recreational areas which have been shut for months were re-opened.
Fears that the US remains vulnerable to a second coronavirus wave were fuelled by a surge in cases some parts of the country, such as North Carolina which reported its biggest daily increase on Saturday.
Dr Seema Yasmin, a former disease detective at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sounded a note of caution on CNN.
“Even as states and some state officials rush to reopen it’s on us to make smart and safe decisions.”