DETROIT – Ford Motor Co. has told the White House that it requires everyone in its factories to wear face masks to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, but it's not clear whether President Donald Trump will wear one when he visits a Detroit-area plant Thursday.
Trump, who is scheduled to tour a factory repurposed to make medical breathing machines near Detroit, has habitually refused to wear a mask at the White House and in recent public appearances.
In a statement, Ford said its policy requires everyone in factories to wear personal protective equipment, including masks, and that policy had been shared with the White House. When asked if the company would require Trump to wear the equipment, spokeswoman Rachel McCleery said, “The White House has its own safety and testing policies in place and will make its own determination.”
Trump didn't give a definite answer when questioned at the White House Tuesday, saying it would depend on how close he gets to others.
“In certain areas, I would. In certain areas, I don’t. But I will certainly look at it. It depends on what situation. Am I standing right next to everybody or am I spread out?" he said. "Where it’s appropriate, I would do it certainly.”
Not wearing a mask and even making the visit itself could violate coronavirus restrictions ordered by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has been at odds with Trump and targeted by the president on Twitter.
In a May 7 order to let manufacturing fully restart last week, Whitmer required factories to suspend “all non-essential in-person visits, including tours.”
Her stay-at-home restrictions also require people to wear a mask in any “enclosed public space” such as grocery stores, though it was not immediately clear if that rule extends to less public-facing operations like factories.
It appeared very unlikely the state would enforce the order against Trump.
“While the president’s visit is contrary to the governor’s order, this is an opportunity to showcase how important Michigan is to the response to COVID-19 and rebuilding our nation’s economy,” said Whitmer spokesman Zack Pohl.
The governor does expect Ford and the president to comply with workplace safety requirements, including the use of masks, he said.
The United Auto Workers union, which represents 55,000 Ford U.S. factory workers, said Trump should be required to wear a mask while visiting the ventilator and auto parts factory in Ypsilanti Township. “The position of the union is that out of respect for the clean, sterile environment, anybody who enters into that plant needs to follow protocols,” spokesman Brian Rothenberg said.
Trump has continually refused to wear a mask at the White House, and during two recent business tours. He didn't wear one on a May 14 visit to Owens and Minor Inc., a medical equipment distributor in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Nor did he put one on while touring a Honeywell mask factory in Arizona on May 5, ignoring guidelines. He did wear safety goggles, and said later that he had briefly donned a mask backstage.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Americans should wear cloth face coverings in public in situations where social distancing is difficult to prevent unknowingly spreading the virus. Trump is tested daily for the virus; the White House says he is negative.
Eggert reported from Lansing, Michigan. Aamer Madhani contributed from Washington, D.C.