Critics Call Out Uneven Mask Enforcement at Cleveland Debate
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Since Tuesday's presidential debate in Cleveland, city health officials say that 11 people involved have so far tested positive for the coronavirus. All played a role in planning or setting up the event and were not in the debate hall.
During the debate, President Trump, his family and others were seen not wearing masks, actions that went against the state's safety guidelines. As Lisa Ryan of WCPN ideastream reports, local health and elected officials criticize this noncompliance.
LISA RYAN, BYLINE: Although most Ohio residents are required to wear masks in public buildings, state Department of Health spokeswoman Melanie Amato says there wasn't a mandate for the presidential debate.
MELANIE AMATO: Political events are exempt, so like his campaign rallies, of the mass gathering of more than 10 people. It is recommended that they wear masks, but, you know, due to the First Amendment right, it's something that we're not pushing.
RYAN: But Cleveland Clinic staff did try to push it. They asked those in attendance to mask up, but some refused, and others put them on before taking them off again. Ohio Democratic House leader Emilia Sykes was at the debate, and she saw the back-and-forth.
EMILIA SYKES: Right before the event started, there was a Cleveland Clinic doctor who approached folks on the Republican side with masks in hand, offering masks. I did not see anyone accept her offer, but she did spend some time with several people, seemingly trying to convince them to put on a mask and urging them to wear one.
RYAN: As we now know, President Trump and the first lady tested positive for coronavirus. Amy Edwards is an infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals in Cleveland. She says, conceivably, some members of his family and staff could've spread it in Cleveland even if they tested negative before the debate.
AMY EDWARDS: Yeah, it's absolutely possible that he was already incubating the virus when he was here.
RYAN: But Dr. Edwards says it's hard to say whether the president was contagious then, even if he was already infected. Dr. Edwards says she was disappointed that some in the audience weren't following the state's guidelines, even if it wasn't a mandate.
EDWARDS: We have these rules in Ohio because we feel like that's what's best for us, and it seems to be working.
RYAN: She wasn't the only one who's disappointed over the lack of uniform masking in Cleveland. Cuyahoga County executive Armond Budish scolded those attendees who chose not to wear a mask.
ARMOND BUDISH: And I think it was extremely disrespectful for people to come into a place like that and not wear a mask. And I don't think it's real smart.
RYAN: The Cleveland Clinic, which also serves as health adviser to the Commission on Presidential Debates, released a statement yesterday saying, even with the president's positive test, it expects a low risk of exposure for others in the debate hall that night.
For NPR News, I'm Lisa Ryan in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.