By WILL STEAKIN and TERRANCE SMITH, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — As the coronavirus surges across the country, several properties owned by President Donald Trump have continued to host gatherings with guests and employees that skirt state and city-mandated face covering ordinances as well as the organization’s own public rules for resuming business during the pandemic.
The president has, over the course of the pandemic, given mixed signals when it comes to wearing a mask to fight the coronavirus, not wearing one publicly until July, even as health experts have said masks are key to slowing the spread. In late May, as the cases started to surge again across the country, Trump shared a tweet mocking presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden for wearing a face mask during a Memorial Day public appearance.
Amid the president’s mixed signals, in recent weeks guests and employees at Trump hotels from Washington, D.C. to North Carolina have attended events and gathered in common areas without wearing masks, flouting local mandates and guidelines that the president’s own properties have issued, according to a review of social media posts.
While Trump for months has refused to wear a face covering in public, the president on Monday tweeted an image of himself in a mask, writing that “many people say that it is Patriotic to wear a face mask when you can’t socially distance.”
But hours later, Trump held at fundraiser at Trump International Hotel in D.C., where multiple guests including the president, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Madison Cawthorn, who recently won a Republican primary runoff for a western North Carolina congressional seat, were all shown on camera at the hotel not wearing masks in the lobby, bunched closely together and not social distancing while the president and attendees did not appear to be eating or drinking, according to a video from the event posted by Cawthorn.
At Tuesday’s first White House coronavirus press briefing in weeks, the president was asked about not wearing a mask Monday night at his hotel, claiming that he was “pretty far away from people, but I would say this: I’ve explained it, I think, very well. If you’re close together, I would put on the mask,” despite video showing that not to be the case.
On May 13, Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser implemented a face-covering order for people in public places. The website of the Trump hotel in Washington states that guests in common spaces such as the lobby are required to wear face coverings unless they’re eating.
“The safety of our guests and employees remains our top priority,” the website states.
But in the clip, the president addresses a small crowd of people who appear to be mostly not following city guidelines that state all hotel employees and guests wear masks.
The event site was sanitized beforehand and the White House Medical Unit and U.S. Secret Service evaluated all attendees prior to them gaining access to the event, according to Republican National Committee press secretary Mandi Merritt who told ABC News, “All attendees tested negative for COVID-19 on the day of the event, completed a wellness questionnaire and passed a temperature screening.”
The Trump organization did not respond to a request for comment.
The Trump Hotel implemented the face mask policy to comply with the local ordinance in Washington, D.C. The policy, found on the Trump Hotel website states, “By government mandate, face coverings are required for all associates and guests while in public areas where social distancing is not possible. These areas include our lobby, elevators, guest corridors, and dining outlets.”
Other hotels across the nation are also looking to implement mandatory face-covering requirements for guests and associates similar to the Trump Hotel. Chief Executive Officer of Marriott International Arne Sorenson announced Monday that all guests will be required to wear face coverings at all 7,300 locations worldwide starting July 27. Staff have already been required to wear face coverings since April.
Several other social media posts show a wedding reception was held on July 4 at Trump International Hotel. In a video shared by Ricardo Vazquez, a wedding D.J. for Dan Goldman events, dozens of guests at the reception are shown dancing and celebrating — packed closely together with no one wearing a mask.
Vazquez, who declined to comment, wrote on Instagram that the reception was reduced in size from 100 to 48.
Prominent pro-Trump figures have shared images at Trump properties while not wearing a mask in public spaces, including My Pillow CEO Michael Lindell, who posted an image on Facebook July 7 not wearing a face covering in the president’s D.C. hotel. Far-right social media personality Tim Gionet, known as “Baked Alaska,” also shared an image from the lobby of the same hotel not wearing a mask.
Greg Aselbekian, a frequent patron also has a “NO MASKS ALLOWED” birthday party set for the president’s Washington, D.C. hotel, according to a Facebook event page, which states: “We’re all tired of being unconstitutionally locked in like animals, join me as I turn 27. Will spend the afternoon at Harry’s if you’d like to join then, and finishing the night at Trump Hotel, where I’ll be staying too. NO MASKS!”
Aselbekian confirmed the planned event to ABC News, adding that he contracted the coronavirus at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February.
“Yeah, that’s where I got it from,” he said. “It sucked for like three weeks. It was like a flu on steroids.”
Aselbekian, a Marine veteran who according to LinkedIn is on the board of Veterans for Trump, said he isn’t afraid of catching it again and that he isn’t going to live his life in fear and added that the president wearing a mask had no influence on what he will do.
“I think for myself. I don’t follow a politician or a person blindly. A lot of people do that, both sides, people are guilty. Like I said, I think for myself,” he said.
These instances aren’t limited to the Trump International Hotel in the nation’s capital. The general manager for Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago Gabriel Soanca posted a picture of workers at the facility without face masks as they changed 400 mattresses and box springs for the property on May 28. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a mandatory mask mandate on April 30.
“So proud of Team Trump Chicago! Changing over 400 mattresses and spring boxes in house. Thank you Team! #neversettle #trumphotelchicago #trumphotels,” read the caption on the post.
In North Carolina, the Twitter account for the Trump National Golf Club in Charlotte tweeted on July 15, along with photos of adults not wearing masks, “What an exciting day having the opportunity to meet @4derekdeboer, driver for @theracersgroup and the GT4 America Series! Check out his popular docu-series, http://FastLife.TV highlighting his motto ‘go out and live your dreams and make the world a happier place!"”
In North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper announced that face masks would be mandatory on April 28.
The tweets have since been deleted and removed from the official Twitter account.
Trump was asked recently if he’d consider a national mask mandate and told Fox News’ Chris Wallace, “No, I want people to have a certain freedom, and I don’t believe in that, no.”
“I don’t agree with the statement that if everybody wear a mask everything disappears,” Trump added in the interview that aired Sunday, contradicting Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said multiple times last week that if everyone wore a mask, the epidemic could be driven “to the ground” in a matter of weeks.
“Donald Trump and his allies just don’t think the rules apply to them,” said Kyle Morse, a spokesperson for Democratic super PAC American Bridge 21st Century. “By politicizing mask-wearing, Donald Trump made it crystal clear that he is more interested in fighting culture wars than fighting coronavirus. Trump mismanaged this pandemic, people died because of it, and we will make sure he is held accountable by the American people.”
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