A maskless Pence visits Mayo

Vice President Mike Pence came to Mayo Clinic to hail its employees as 'healers,' but he wasn't wearing a mask.

Mike Pence's walk through Mayo Clinic on Tuesday stirred controversy, as the vice president defied the clinic's rule on wearing a mask inside its facilities. Pence said he is regularly checked for COVID-19 and doesn't pose a threat. (Jim Mone/Associated Press)

Vice President Mike Pence spent the day in Rochester on Tuesday spotlighting the work of Mayo Clinic in fighting the coronavirus global pandemic, but his message was undercut by his failure to wear a face mask, in violation of clinic policy.

From Mayo’s pioneering work on COVID-19 molecular and dynastic testing to its lead role in convalescent plasma trials, Pence hailed the clinic’s innovation, calling its 39,000 doctors, nurses and other employees “healers.”

“I will leave today inspired and encouraged that we are a step closer to reopening our country and healing our land because of the work you are doing,” said Pence at a roundtable featuring Gov. Tim Walz, Mayo Clinic CEO Dr. Gianrico Farrugia, and other Mayo doctors and scientists.

But Pence’s arrival on the Mayo campus was overshadowed by his failure to wear a face mask. When the vice president walked into Mayo Clinic, he wasn’t wearing a mask, although everyone else, including patients and doctors, was.

That was in violation of clinic policy requiring all visitors to wear a mask. It was also contrary to the advice he gave at the roundtable, urging people to obey the guidelines of elected leaders and health experts to prevent the spread of the virus. The incident blew up on social media, and Democrats pounced on his failure.


“By refusing to lead by example and help protect essential workers, Vice President Pence is telling the American people that his public image matters more than the lives of those on the front lines of this pandemic,” said Ken Martin, chairman of the state DFL Party.

A Mayo spokesperson said the vice president was told of the clinic’s masking policy.

Pence later explained that he didn’t wear a mask at Mayo because, as vice president, he is tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis, and so is everyone around him.

“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,” Pence later told reporters.

It’s the vice president’s second visit to Minnesota since the pandemic hit the United States. In March, he visited 3M in Maplewood to learn more about the company’s efforts to ramp up production of N95 masks.

Pence leads the Trump administration’s coronavirus response team.

Democratic leaders said they expected Walz and Mayo officials to urge Pence to send the state supplies needed to administer thousands of additional tests each day. The University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic announced a partnership that could expand the state’s testing capacity to 20,000 each day. That broader testing regimen will be key to reopening sectors of the state’s economy, Walz said.

The Democratic governor has said he hopes to lead the nation in terms of COVID-19 testing and response to the pandemic.


But absent supplies needed to run the tests and protective equipment to guard health workers against the illness, efforts to boost testing capacity have so far fallen short.

“The lack of leadership from the White House has had a devastating effect on confidence. The president has said that states are on our own, and he tries to undermine the decision states are making,” State Rep. Tina Liebling, D-Rochester, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, told reporters. “President Trump has said, ‘Liberate Minnesota.’ What we say is, ‘Liberate testing, liberating planning, liberate coordination, and liberate PPE.”

U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat representing Minnesota’s 3rd District, said he joined a call with Walz and the state’s congressional delegation Tuesday morning and the governor indicated a shortage in supplies was holding back Minnesota’s testing efforts.

“He is incredulous that we are ready to go with a massive testing program but still cannot obtain federally promised support, swabs and vials in particular,” Phillips said. “Access to swabs and vials and testing is imperative, and the federal government can and should be playing a role to ensure that. Anything short of that will only result in more delays and more loss of life and economic hardship.”

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or
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