In an interview with Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes on Sunday, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace pressed Cortes on why the president's family chose not to wear masks while in the audience during the recent debate with Joe Biden.
Wallace, who moderated that debate, questioned why the Trump family wore masks upon entering the facility but took them off upon being seated at the event, especially in light of President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump confirming days later they had gotten COVID-19.
"The rules from the Cleveland Clinic could not have been more clear: Everyone — everyone in the audience — was to wear a mask," Wallace, 72, said.
Referring to the president, his wife and his adult children Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka and Tiffany, Wallace continued: "The president, and the former vice president and I were the only ones exempt from that … after the first family came in, they all took off their masks. So did the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows."
"Do they think that the health and safety rules for everybody else do not apply to them?" Wallace asked.
Cortes responded that the family and Meadows had all recently been tested for the novel coronavirus, insinuating that a negative test result was a reason to shun personal protective equipment.
"It doesn't matter … everybody who was in that room was tested. And the Cleveland Clinic's regulation was, it didn't matter," Wallace replied, adding that clinic staff even offered the Trumps masks once they were seated, but the coverings were "waved away.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a negative test simply means you "probably were not infected at the time your sample was collected." Experts say a false-negative is possible if someone is tested too soon after they have first been infected.
Those who test negative could still see a positive test result later and the CDC urges everyone to wear a mask when in a public setting — both to protect themselves as well as others.
As Wallace noted, the Commission on Presidential Debates has since announced that those who don't wear a mask while in the audience will be escorted from the venue.
"We believe that masks are very useful," Cortes told Wallace on his show, adding that the president has worn masks on multiple occasions. (Trump has also criticized them.)
Cortes hedged his response by adding that the campaign believes in "some element of individual choice" when it comes to wearing a mask, which health experts have stressed is a key preventative measure people can take.
A heated Wallace then responded, "There was no freedom of choice. They broke the rules. Why did they break the rules?"
Rather than provide a direct answer to Wallace's questions, Cortes claimed that Wallace was not neutral in his coverage of the president.
"Chris, the way you're starting to harangue me now actually reminds me of what you did to the president during that debate on Tuesday night," Cortes said. "He had to debate not just Joe Biden but you, as well. You were not a neutral moderator then."
"The president interrupted me and the vice president 145 times, so I object to saying, 'I harangued the president,' " Wallace said.
Wallace reportedly sat about 12 feet from Trump, 74, at Tuesday’s debate. The president — who has been notorious for shunning masks and making fun of those, including Biden, who wear them — announced he had tested positive for the virus later in the week, shortly before 1 a.m. Friday.
The White House has since been reluctant to be more specific about the timeline of the president's illness, the onset of his symptoms and how often he is tested, beyond saying his first positive result came late Thursday.
On Friday, Wallace appeared on Fox News to urge viewers at home to wear masks.
"The president of the United States is in the most secure bubble in the world … and he still got it," Wallace said. "So, wear the damn mask!"
He also said he was planning to be tested for the virus, given his proximity to the president and first lady last Tuesday.
The president — whose blood oxygen levels dropped twice late last week, according to his doctors — was taken to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Friday.
His medical team told reporters over the weekend he was improving and could be discharged soon, but they also acknowledged they were trying to project an "upbeat attitude."
Trump was seen Sunday afternoon when he left for an unannounced car ride outside the hospital to wave to his supporters. Sitting inside his motorcade, he wore a mask.
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