NBC News reporter Peter Alexander pressed White House press secretary Jen Psaki to address a viral video showing patrons of a Naples, Fla., grocery store shopping and interacting without wearing masks.
The video, shot by network colleague Sam Brock and aired during an NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt earlier this week, includes a panning of the checkout lanes at Oakes Farms Seed to Table Market that shows only a few people wearing masks.
“When you pan the grocery store, you see almost everybody in there is not wearing a mask, even though it’s in a county where masks are mandated,” said Alexander. “Beyond urging Americans to wear masks, what specifically is this White House doing to combat that resistance especially given concerns about the coronavirus mutations and others right now?”
Psaki responded that President Joe Biden’s focus is on communicating the risks to the public as part of an educational effort touting mask-wearing as beneficial. She also noted that the White House sets the example by mandating mask usage as well as social distancing, which the previous administration also required.
She also said that even after Americans are vaccinated, social distancing and mask-wearing would still be “essential.”
But Alexander then called out the store’s owner, Alfie Oakes, who told Brooks he doesn’t wear a mask while discounting the official COVID-19 death toll.
“What do you say to the folks like those we saw in this video?” an exasperated Alexander asked. “I believe one of the folks who owns or runs that store who said he doesn’t believe 450,000 Americans have died of coronavirus. At the end of the day, we need everybody on board to beat this virus. What do you tell them?”
The press secretary reiterated that the administration’s approach is to communicate with the general public in a “non-political” way.
“We try to fight the misinformation with facts, Peter,” Psaki responded. “And fight it with health and medical experts, including at a national level, at a local level, to convey to people that wearing a mask is something that not only can save the lives of their neighbors but of their family members.”
In his report, Brock noted that “experts’ clear messaging that wearing masks can slow the spread of COVID-19,” and that government experts including lead immunologist Dr. Tony Fauci have long recommended mask use to curb the spread of the virus.
— Bo Snerdley (@BoSnerdley) February 4, 2021
Brock also reported that the city of Naples has implemented a mask mandate but that Gov. Ron DeSantis “has stripped their ability to fine people for not following the rules.”
As for the grocery store, which is owned by Alfie Oakes, Brock highlighted signage alerting customers to the mask mandate but also provides them with an out.
“Those in our lovely government have ordered all persons entering indoor facilities to wear a mask,” the sign reads.
“If you have a medical condition that prevents you from wearing a mask, you are exempt from this order,” the sign continues. “Due to HIPAA and the 4th Amendment we cannot legally ask you about your medical condition. Therefore, if we see you without a mask, we will assume you have a medical condition and we will welcome you inside to support our business.”
In response to questions from Brock, Oakes adamantly defended his positions.
“I know that the masks don’t work, and I know that the virus has not killed 400,000 people in this country. That’s total hogwash. I’m not gonna do it, I’ve never worn a mask in my life and I never will,” Oakes added.
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