(WEHT/AP) — Thursday wasn’t the first time Vice President Mike Pence has visited the GM plant in Kokomo, but it’s the first time since it workers shifted to making ventilators to help patients with COVID-19.
“I must tell you, standing here in the Hoosier state and being among people who put together this plant in 17 days and produced the first ventilator in three days and in less than a month had produced more than 600 ventilators for the American people – I couldn’t be more inspired,” Vice President Pence said.
General Motors partnered with Ventec Life systems to make 30,000 ventilators by the end of August.
Vice President Mike Pence donned a face covering during the tour after coming under fire for failing to wear one earlier this week in violation of Mayo Clinic policy.
The facility in Kokomo had been closed because of the coronavirus but was brought back online in mid-April to produce critical care ventilators for hospitals around the country. General Motors requires workers to wear masks in the plant’s production area, according to spokesman Jim Cain.
Pence removed the mask, however, for a roundtable with top officials, including General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Ventec CEO Chris Kiple. None of the participants wore face coverings.
Pence’s visit to the factory came hours after his wife, Karen Pence, defended her husband’s decision to not wear a mask during a Tuesday visit to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Mrs. Pence told Fox News Channel that he had been unaware of the hospital’s coronavirus policy during the visit and that the vice president has been following the advice of medical experts. Pence, like other senior White House staff, is tested for the virus at least once a week.
“As our medical experts have told us, wearing a mask prevents you from spreading the disease. And knowing that he doesn’t have COVID-19, he didn’t wear one,” Mrs. Pence said, adding that it “was actually after he left Mayo Clinic that he found out that they had a policy of asking everyone to wear a mask.”
“So, you know, someone who’s worked on this whole task force for over two months is not someone who would have done anything to offend anyone or hurt anyone or scare anyone,” she said.
The Mayo Clinic had earlier tweeted — then deleted — that it had informed the vice president of its “masking policy prior to his arrival.”
“Mayo shared the masking policy with the VP’s office,” the health care system later said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that Americans wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, such as in supermarkets, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
But President Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed discomfort about mask-wearing, saying he did not intend to wear one when the CDC’s recommendations were unveiled. Most senior staff, who are regularly tested, have followed his lead, at least when they’re in the White House.
Footage of Pence’s tour of the Mayo Clinic showed him bare-faced as he met with an employee who had recovered from the virus, even though everyone else in the room appeared to be wearing one. He also participated in a roundtable discussion in which every participant, from Food and Drug Administration chief Stephen Hahn to the state’s governor, wore a mask except for him.
Pence explained his decision that day by stressing that he has been frequently tested for the virus.
“As vice president of the United States I’m tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus,” Pence said. “And since I don’t have the coronavirus, I thought it’d be a good opportunity for me to be here, to be able to speak to these researchers, these incredible health care personnel, and look them in the eye and say ‘thank you.’”
But even with a mask, Pence would have been able to look health care workers in the eye because one only covers the nose and mouth.
People who enter the White House complex have their temperature taken, and those who will be in close proximity to the president and the vice president are given rapid COVID-19 tests to ensure they’re not infectious.
Senior staff also are given tests on a rolling basis so that infections are quickly detected.
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking in Washington and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.