President Donald Trump wears a mask as he walks down the hallway during his visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical…
FILE - President Donald Trump wears a mask as he walks down the hallway during his visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, July 11, 2020.

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump says he is in favor of Americans wearing face masks to help curb the surging coronavirus pandemic, but says he will not impose a national mandate. 

“I’m a believer in masks,” Trump said in an interview at the White House first aired on the “Fox News Sunday” TV show. “I think masks are good.” 

But Trump, who wore a mask in public for the first time only a week ago, told newsman Chris Wallace in the interview conducted Friday: “I don’t agree with the statement that if everybody wears a mask, everything disappears.” 

Even as several of the 50 U.S. state governors and big-city mayors have imposed mask-wearing mandates in the face of fast-rising coronavirus caseloads, Trump said he believes mask-wearing should be voluntary. 

“I want people to have a certain freedom and I don’t believe in” making it a legal requirement, Trump said in his first Sunday talk show interview in more than a year. 

The president noted that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, and Surgeon General Jerome Adams both advised against wearing a mask in the first days of the virus’ spread in the U.S. early this year. Both have long since changed their minds and repeatedly called for face coverings. 

FILE - From left, members of the U.S. coronavirus task force Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx, Jerome Adams, and Dr. Stephen Hahn arrive to attend a coronavirus briefing at the White House, in Washington, April 10, 2020.

“Hey, Dr. Fauci said don’t wear a mask,” Trump said. “Our surgeon general — terrific guy — said don’t wear a mask. Everybody who is saying don’t wear a mask — all of sudden everybody’s got to wear a mask, and as you know masks cause problems, too.” 

More than 70,000 new coronavirus cases have been recorded daily in recent days in the U.S. In all, more than 140,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, with more than 3.7 million coronavirus infections. Both figures are far higher than in any other country. 

“We do have embers, we do have flames,” Trump said of the recent surge in cases, while claiming, “It’s going to be under control.” 

The president played down the threat, saying that many of those catching the virus are young people who will quickly recover. 

“They have the sniffles,” he said. 

Vehicles wait in line at a COVID-19 testing site at the Miami Beach Convention Center, Florida, July 12, 2020.

Trump contended, as he has in recent weeks, that the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in the U.S. is increasing because of the thousands of tests it has conducted, even though the growth in the number of infections is outpacing the increased number of tests.

“It really skews the numbers,” Trump said of the increased testing. As the White House and Congress consider another funding plan to help the country recover from the pandemic, Trump aides are opposing more money for increased testing, according to reporting by The Washington Post.

Asked why the White House has attempted to discredit Fauci, Trump said, “Dr. Fauci made some mistakes,” while adding that he personally has a “great relationship” with him. Still, Trump called Fauci “a little bit of an alarmist.”

But the president dismissed his own early mistakes, including a comment that the coronavirus would “just disappear,” from 15 cases down to zero.

“I’ll be right eventually,” Trump declared. “I’ve been right probably more than anyone.”  

Health experts predict that tens of thousands more Americans will die from the pandemic in the coming months.

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