Pence Urges Mask Use at Texas Event Where 100-Person Choir Sang Without Them

Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday urged Texans to wear facial coverings when required and when practicing social distancing is not possible, as new coronavirus cases are surging throughout the state.

Pence gave his advice on wearing masks while delivering a 30-minute speech at the First Baptist Church in Dallas. A choir featuring more than 100 singers sat behind the vice president as he spoke. While the choir members wore masks during his speech, they removed the coverings to deliver vocal performances throughout the event, according to CNN.

"People should continue to practice good hygiene—wash your hands, avoid touching your face—and wear a mask wherever it's indicated. Or wherever you're not able to practice the same kind of social distancing that would prevent the spread of the coronavirus," Pence said. "We would strongly reiterate that today."

Vice President Mike Pence
Vice President Mike Pence speaks after leading a White House coronavirus task force briefing at the Department of Health and Human Services on June 26. Two days later, Pence delivered a speech at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, during which he encouraged Texans to wear masks. Joshua Roberts/Getty

In the days before Sunday's event, organizers said face masks would be "strongly encouraged" but not required. Though the choir members donned face masks when they were not singing, a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last month found that a 61-person choir practice in Washington state resulted in a virus hot spot that infected at least 32 of the singers present.

"The act of singing, itself, might have contributed to transmission through emission of aerosols, which is affected by loudness of vocalization," the CDC's report said, adding that social distancing and wearing face masks could prevent such outbreaks from occurring.

Face masks are not required statewide in Texas, as they are in states like California, where new cases have also been spiking in recent weeks. The debate over whether facial coverings should be required remains hotly debated in the Lone Star State, where a handful of mayors asked Governor Greg Abbott to allow them to require masks in their jurisdictions, where case numbers began rising in mid-June, The Texas Tribune reported.

The issue has also generated criticism of the White House because of President Donald Trump's refusal to wear masks in most settings. Pence has also been criticized for not wearing masks while traveling in the U.S., but video of Sunday's event showed the vice president wearing a mask while seated in the audience. He removed the mask for his speech but put it back on before he returned to his seat.

Abbott's office did not respond to Newsweek's inquiry about face mask mandates before publication.

In response to the new surges in cases, Abbott issued an executive order last week that rolled some pandemic restrictions back into place, but gatherings of 100 people or more are still allowed as long as event organizers receive approval from local government leaders. According to CNN, about 2,200 people were at the First Baptist Church to hear Pence speak on Sunday, including Abbott.

The Texas Department of State Health Services reported a total of nearly 150,000 cases by Sunday. According to data compiled by the DSHS, Dallas is the second most affected county in the state behind Harris County, with 19,595 cases confirmed.

During interviews with local media outlets last week, Abbott described the outbreak of new cases as "massive" and warned residents on Sunday of the "very swift and very dangerous turn" the pandemic had taken in the state.