MORRISVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA - For the second time, U.S. President Donald Trump has been photographed wearing a mask amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump wore the face covering as he toured a North Carolina laboratory where key components are being manufactured for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by Novavax.
“I trust all Americans to do the right thing, but we strongly advise everyone to especially, especially focus on maintaining a social distance, maintain a rigorous hygiene, avoid crowded gatherings and indoor bars and wear masks when appropriate,” Trump told a group of reporters traveling with him just before his tour of the Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies Innovation Center.
“Nothing’s happened like this since the end of World War II,” the president said of the billions of dollars being spent in the global race to produce and mass deploy a vaccine in record time.
Before the tour of the plant, Trump spoke to several dozen North Carolina politicians, scientists, White House officials, journalists and Secret Service agents, Trump was the only person not wearing a mask.
The president who has faced criticism for what is perceived as a belated and inadequate response by the federal government to the coronavirus pandemic, said the U.S. states “largely had what they needed” but that all of them “are not out of the woods.”
Trump defended his administration’s response to the pandemic, despite the U.S. reporting the largest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in the world.
“We report our cases. Most of the world doesn’t,” Trump said.
The United States has conducted more than 52 million tests, the president said, adding, “nobody’s even close.”
Trump said U.S. officials are monitoring caseloads in Latin America, a region of particular concern.
“You have some very, very highly infected countries outside of our borders,” he said.
The mortality rate for U.S. COVID-19 patients older than 18 is 85% lower than it was in April, according to the president, giving credit to better therapies and improved knowledge about the coronavirus.
In the past week, the disease killed more than 1,000 Americans a day for five straight days, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
Despite the climbing number of cases, Trump said Monday that “a lot of the governors should be opening up states that they’re not opening.”
“We will achieve a victory over the virus by unleashing American scientific genius,” he said.
Trump’s Monday visit came less than 100 days before the November 3 presidential election and less than six weeks before absentee mail-in ballots are sent to voters in North Carolina, which is seen as a key battleground state.
Polls, including one released Monday morning, show the incumbent trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the state.
Trump carried North Carolina in 2016, helping him achieve an Electoral College victory.
The facility Trump visited, near Raleigh, is to start producing a batch of vaccine to be used in a clinical trial of as many as 30,000 test subjects this fall.
Fujifilm Diosynth is manufacturing the vaccine for Novavax, a company in Gaithersburg, Maryland, that developed it. Novavax was awarded $1.6 billion from the federal government as part of an effort to speed up coronavirus vaccine development.
The Trump administration launched what it calls Operation Warp Speed, a program under which multiple coronavirus vaccines are being developed simultaneously with the hope of having 300 million safe and effective doses ready by January.
While Trump was in North Carolina, Vice President Mike Pence was in Miami, where clinical trials of another vaccine jointly developed by The National Institutes of Health and the Moderna Inc. began Monday.
"It's a historic day, a day when we begin in earnest to work on a vaccine," Pence said.
Some health experts say it sometimes can take years for a safe, effective vaccine against a disease to be successfully developed.
Food and Drug Administration chief Dr. Stephen Hahn was with Pence in Miami and told reporters the FDA "will not cut corners" to evaluate a vaccine.
Several other countries are also working on developing a COVID-19 vaccine.