At his weekly public audience Wednesday at the Vatican, Pope Francis kept his distance from the faithful, who had come to hear him, but once again appeared in public without a mask amid a resurgence of COVID-19 in Italy.
The pope told his audience — which was much smaller than usual due to the surging infection rate — he would love to come down and greet them, but "this is contrary to the measures and the precautions we must take in order to face 'Madame COVID.'"
Francis went without a protective mask Wednesday even when he greeted a few mask-less bishops at the end of his audience.
While some Vatican officials wore masks throughout the hour-long audience, they took them off when they lined up to shake Francis' hand and speak briefly with him one-on-one.
In an interview Tuesday, a key member of the pope's COVID-19 response commission, Rev. Augusto Zampini, said they have discussed with Francis the importance of him wearing a mask. At the age of 83 and with part of his lung removed after an illness in his youth, the pope would be considered at high risk for complications, if he were to become infected.
Zampini said the pope has begun wearing a mask more, and it is their hope he will use it when he is close to people.
Francis has only been seen wearing a mask in public twice — on September 9 as he entered and exited his general audience, and last week during a two-hour interfaith prayer service in downtown Rome.
Thirteen Swiss Guards and a resident of the guest house where the pope lives have recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Vatican regulations require masks indoors and outdoors when social distancing cannot be guaranteed.