'Wear a mask!' Republicans change tune as COVID-19 surges

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican lawmakers are making a public push for face coverings, splitting with mask-averse U.S. President Donald Trump on the issue as COVID-19 cases surge in some Republican-leaning states.

The top Republican in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, said on Monday every American has a responsibility to follow recommendations to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“They should wear a mask,” McCarthy told CNBC after his home state of California began to roll back efforts to reopen the economy. “If you cannot social distance, you need to be wearing a mask and you need to be respectful to one another.”

Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, where cases are spiking, posted a similar message on Twitter.

“I am encouraging everyone to WEAR YOUR MASKS!” he said.

Throughout the country, resistance to public health measures has taken on a partisan tinge. A Reuters/Ipsos survey conducted in May found that just one-third of Republicans were “very concerned” about the virus, compared to nearly half of Democrats. Trump eschews wearing a mask in public, while his Democratic opponent in November, Joe Biden, generally wears one.

While a number Republican politicians have donned masks themselves, some have shied away from insisting Americans cover their faces in public, saying it was a matter of personal choice.

That began to change as coronavirus cases nationwide soar to record levels day after day, prompting Republican-led states like Texas and Florida to re-impose restrictions, such as closing recently reopened bars.

Vice President Mike Pence encouraged Americans to wear masks during a visit to Texas on Sunday.

In one of the more compelling images, U.S. Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming on Friday tweeted a photo of her father, Republican former Vice President Dick Cheney, wearing a surgical mask with the hashtag #realmenwearmasks.

(The story corrects Rick to Tim in paragraph 4)

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