President Donald Trump stepped off Air Force One on Friday in Miami, into one of the worst coronavirus hot spots in the country.
He wasn’t wearing a mask, though Miami-Dade County has a mask-wearing mandate in public. A spokesman for Miami International Airport had said earlier in the week that he wouldn’t need to, since he would be going from the airport runway to his limo before heading to the U.S. Southern Command.
After his arrival at 12:15 p.m., Trump walked down the plane’s stairs and spoke briefly with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a Republican running for Congress with Trump’s endorsement, who imposed the mask-wearing rule as COVID-19 cases have soared.
He didn’t head straight to the limo.
Trump also spoke with County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz and County Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo, who is running for Gimenez’s mayoral seat. Gimenez, Diaz and Bovo were initially wearing masks and did not shake hands with the president, though Bovo later took off his mask to speak with Trump shortly before the president departed.
In a brief interview off the runway, Diaz said, “We all got tested before we got close to the president. It came out negative.” Diaz said they wore masks “out of respect” for the president.
Gimenez waved off a Miami Herald reporter who tried to interview him and left in his SUV.
Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who traveled with the president on Air Force One, did not wear a mask when he exited the plane shortly after the president. Diaz-Balart was the first member of Congress to test positive for COVID-19 in March, though he has since recovered.
Florida’s Department of Health on Friday confirmed 11,433 new cases of COVID-19, making it the second-highest single-day total recorded since the pandemic began in March. Miami-Dade County reported 2,380 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 26 new deaths. The county now has had 58,341 confirmed cases and 1,118 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, the highest in the state.
In interviews last week before Trump’s visit was announced, Gimenez said he expected the president to wear a mask.
“I believe the president, like every other leader, should follow what the rules are of the locality,” Gimenez said on July 2. “And so depending on the locality, if he comes to Miami-Dade I would expect that he would be wearing a mask because that’s our rules down here.
“As the leader of Miami-Dade, I’ll be wearing a mask. You’ll see me wearing a mask all the time. You have always seen me wear the mask when it’s appropriate. The message is this, you have to assume everybody has the virus. That’s why we’re asking you to wear a mask. Wearing a mask is actually a symbol of respect, the respect I have for you and that you have for me, because this mask actually protects you from me and that mask protects me from you.”
Mask wearing has become a divisive issue for Florida Republicans. Gimenez and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, whose city will host the GOP convention next month, have mandated masks in their communities. In late June, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said “everyone should wear a damn mask” while fellow Sen. Rick Scott railed against mask-wearing mandates in a Fox News interview last week.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was not present for Trump’s visit, said on June 27 that penalizing people for wearing masks “is something that would probably backfire.”
Trump, who last visited Miami in January, has so far resisted wearing masks during public appearances. He indicated on Thursday that could change on Saturday, when he visits Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland.
“I’m going to Walter Reed to see some of our great soldiers who have been injured. Badly injured. And also see some of our COVID workers, people who have such a great job,” Trump said in a Fox News interview. “And I expect to be wearing a mask when I go into Walter Reed. You’re in a hospital so I think it’s a very appropriate thing.”
The majority of Trump’s visit, which includes stops at the U.S. Southern Command in Doral and Iglesia Doral Jesus Worship Center, is not under Miami-Dade’s mask mandate, which does not apply to federal facilities and places of worship.