(NEXSTAR) — President Donald Trump, who has tested positive for the coronavirus, has spent much of the year downplaying its health threat, including frequently being seen not wearing a mask.
During Tuesday’s presidential debate with former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump responded to a question about the importance of wearing face coverings by saying, “I think that masks are OK.”
“I wear masks when needed,” he said.
Yet he went on to mock Biden, his Democratic rival, about wearing them.
“I don’t wear masks like him,” Trump said of Biden. “Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from me, and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.”
The U.S. has the world’s highest number of reported cases and deaths from COVID-19, with 7.2 million cases and more than 208,000 deaths nationwide, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
The Trump campaign has frequently been called out about the president’s stump rallies, shown to have crowds of supporters, many not wearing masks or social distancing.
The campaign has defended the rallies and blamed the media for their coverage of them. The campaign — and Trump himself — has said the rallies are typically held outdoors, suggesting a lower risk of spreading the virus.
“It’s outside, that makes a big difference according to the experts,” Trump said at Tuesday’s debate. “And we do them outside and we have tremendous crowds as you see.”
However, masks are not mandatory.
At a Trump rally last week in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the president both encouraged mask usage among his supporters and ridiculed Biden for wearing them.
“Did you ever see a man that likes a mask as much as him?” Trump said to the crowd. “It gives him a feeling of security. If I was a psychiatrist, I’d say this guy has some big issues.”
The Pennsylvania Department of Health is encouraging people who were at Trump’s rally Saturday to get tested if they are feeling sick.
Thousands attended the outdoor rally and were required to pass through a security checkpoint and get their temperatures taken.
Earlier this year, Trump admitted to deliberately downplaying the threat of the virus publicly. The revelation came with the recent release of audio recordings from interviews between him and Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward.
In one of the recordings, Trump says, “I always wanted to play it down. I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.