Trump Town Hall: President Says Position on Masks Has Not Changed Since Contracting COVID-19

Donald Trump Savannah Guthrie
Brendan Smialowski / AFP

"I was okay with the masks. I was good with it, but I've heard very different stories on masks," the president said.

President Trump said his position on wearing masks has not changed since he contracted COVID-19 during his town hall on NBC on Thursday, timed to compete with presidential contender rival Joe Biden's on ABC.

When moderator Savannah Guthrie asked whether Trump's feelings on masks altered after he fell ill, he responded, "No, because I was okay with the masks. I was good with it, but I've heard very different stories on masks."

Guthrie challenged Trump's position on masks because, she said, his public health officials were unanimous in saying that widespread mask use would save lives. "I don't get it, because you have so much power and influence as president. You could go to your rallies and say 'everyone put on a mask right now,' and the University of Washington says you would save lives," she said. (At Trump's Oct. 12 Florida rally, supporter and members of his campaign were photographed not wearing masks.)

"A lot of places say different things," he responded. He then repeated a false argument about masks, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 85 percent of people who wore masks caught COVID-19. He was referring to a Sept. 10 CDC report about how dining in restaurants affected COVID-19 infection rates.

"We're on the same side. I say wear the mask, I'm fine with it. We're on the same side," Trump said before the show went to a commercial break.

The town hall, replacing an Oct. 15 virtual debate that Trump refused to participate in, took place at the Pérez Art Museum in Miami and was hosted by Today host Guthrie. At the town hall, a small number of voters with questions were seated behind Trump and Guthrie, masked and socially distanced. When voters stepped up to ask a question, they were asked to take off their masks.

Coronavirus also took up the majority of Guthrie and Trump's early conversation, with Trump saying that he felt "great" after contracting COVID-19 in early October. Guthrie pressed Trump on whether he had tested the day of his first debate with Biden on Sept. 29. "Possibly I did, possibly I didn't," Trump responded.

Trump backed out of the second debate with Biden the week prior, after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and the debate commission insisted the event go virtual to protect attendees. "I'm not going to waste my time," the president told Fox Business of the decision. ABC News proceeded to schedule a town hall with Biden in place of the debate.

NBC News' announcement of the Trump town hall on Wednesday drew criticism from current and former employees of the network. Connecting star Shakina Nayfack tweeted, "Shame on @NBC. Y’all sign my checks as of late but I‘m disgusted by my home network giving Trump a platform for fear mongering, bigotry & disinformation... These days leading up to the election should be about the exchange and comparison of ideas and policy, not ratings and stoking division. @realDonaldTrump & @JoeBiden should #debate."

Former NBC News vp Cheryl Gould wrote on Facebook, "I am dismayed—more like disgusted— by NBC’s decision to air Trump’s “I wont play by the rules so let me make my own rules” town hall opposite Biden’s. Is this what the new leadership at NBC thinks is the right thing to do? To be complicit in Trump’s tantrum? A shameless grab for ratings! I wouldn’t be shocked if this were Fox News. But NBC? My former home? I’ve never been happier to say the word 'former.'"

When asked about his reluctance to wear masks during the pandemic during the first presidential debate, Trump made a show of demonstrating that he had a mask in his pocket. (Attendees were required to wear masks, socially distance and be pre-tested for COVID.) However, multiple members of Trump's family were pictured removing their masks once they had been seated and Melania Trump greeted her husband post-debate without a mask.

Days later, Trump and Melania tested positive for COVID-19. A White House doctor has subsequently said Trump has tested negative "on consecutive days."

Biden's town hall on ABC News, anchored by George Stephanopoulos from Philadelphia, proceeded with safety measures including allowing only 21 voters to attend (319 seats in the venue were left empty to enforce social distancing). Only 22 crew members are working the town hall in person, also to enforce social distancing. According to ABC News, the town hall is using 4,000 disinfecting wipes and 20 gallons of hand sanitizer in total.