WASHINGTON — Ben Carson, a famed pediatric neurosurgeon who leads the Department of Housing and Urban Development, attended a political fundraiser Monday where dozens of people congregated indoors without masks.
The private event was held in Fauquier County, Virginia, for the benefit of Bob Good, a Republican running for office in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District. Press was denied access, but Good posted several pictures on Facebook of Carson mingling among maskless attendees at the indoor event.
A local progressive blog spotted the post as well and tweeted it Tuesday.
Attendees, including Carson, flouted the guidelines from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Virginia’s health department. The Virginia Department of Health recommended face coverings during the early days of the pandemic — but as of May 29, it now “requires people wear masks when spending time in indoor public settings.” It was not immediately clear if the fundraiser took place inside a private residence or another location.
An executive order supersedes any conflicts with the health department; as it relates to dining establishments, the only mandate is that parties are physically separated. The photos, which show people mingling between tables, do not show the parties separated by 6 feet.
Carson’s office did not respond to more than one request for comment.
Carson’s actions go against statements he made in June during a television interview on ABC about wearing masks, when he warned, “If we all do it, it will make a dramatic difference.”
Taison Bell, an assistant professor at the University of Virginia and an infectious disease specialist, called the scene “very disheartening.”
“Dr. Carson is a highly accomplished surgeon who I looked up to as a child for my own inspiration to become a physician,” Bell told BuzzFeed News. “He certainly understands the importance of wearing a mask to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. We need the officials in the administration to lead by example and model the behavior that will best keep America safe.”
The mixed signaling is indicative of the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus — especially as it relates to masks. Since the pandemic was declared in March, White House officials, including the president, have downplayed wearing face coverings.
During last week’s town hall, when pressed about masks and why he hasn’t been a vocal advocate of them, the president mischaracterized a recent study that said people who wore masks and ate in restaurants were more likely to contract the coronavirus.
Last month, Trump endorsed Good after the Virginian bested the Republican incumbent, Rep. Denver Riggleman, for the party nomination in June. The former county supervisor faces Democrat Cameron Webb, a practicing physician, who has outraised Good in what is historically a Republican-leaning district.
Good did not respond to a request for comment. During a televised interview on Tuesday, he cited medical officials to downplay the efficacy of masks.
“I had one doctor tell me — again, I'm not a doctor — but I had one doctor tell me that wearing a mask is like ... putting up a chain-link fence to keep out mosquitoes,” he said.