Trump, in a Shift, Endorses Masks and Says Virus Will Get Worse

The president again insisted the virus would “disappear” but conceded that it remained serious. “We have embers and fires, and we have big fires, and unfortunately now Florida is in a little tough or in a big tough position,” he said.

Weeks after claiming that “99 percent” of coronavirus cases were “totally harmless,” the president sounded less sanguine on Tuesday, calling it “a nasty horrible disease,” although he continued to falsely insist that the mortality rate in the United States was among the lowest in the world.

Mr. Trump also urged Americans to avoid packed bars and offered his most robust endorsement of masks, saying, “when you can, use a mask,” even as he falsely claimed he had always been supportive. “I have no problem with the masks,” he said, holding up a blue one with a presidential seal. “I view it this way: Anything that potentially can help, and that certainly can potentially help, is a good thing. I have no problem. I carry it. I wear it. You saw me wearing it a number of times, and I’ll continue.”

In fact, Mr. Trump has worn a mask in public on only one occasion: when he knew he would be photographed, during a recent visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. Until then, he often disparaged masks: In April, after public health advisers recommended wearing them, he said, “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.” Mr. Trump mocked Mr. Biden in May for donning one, calling them “a double-edged sword” and even suggesting that wearing a mask was a political statement against him.

And even after posting a Twitter message on Monday urging masks, the president was spotted that night at his Washington hotel mingling with guests without wearing one.

He shifted his stance only after many senior Republicans, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and several governors began promoting them more vigorously. By this week, Mr. Trump began saying that it was “patriotic” to wear a mask, in contrast to his supporters, who have claimed that mandating masks is an infringement on their civil liberties.

But even as the president sought to recalibrate his message on the virus, he was struggling to reconcile it with the rest of his team. Asked at an earlier news briefing about Mr. Trump’s failure to wear a mask at his hotel, Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, told reporters that it was not as urgent for the president to wear one since he was tested regularly for the virus.