July 8, 2020 / 7:28 PM / a month ago

From scarves to masks: White House's Birx seeks to make coronavirus fashion pivot

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, takes off her protective face mask to speak as U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos looks on during a White House coronavirus disease (COVID-19) task force briefing at the U.S. Education Department in Washington, U.S., July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. coronavirus official Dr. Deborah Birx, who attracted a cult following for wearing colorful scarves, on Wednesday sought to convince Americans that wearing face masks is not only sensible but stylish too.

“I know some of you do watch what I wear. I’m wearing this specially today,” said Birx, showing a white mask with the words “Stay Safe! Stay Strong!”

“Masks can be a fashion statement,” the White House coronavirus response coordinator told reporters.

As she appeared at daily televised coronavirus briefings in the spring, Birx captivated the internet with her scarf choices including bright florals and classic Hermes designs. An Instagram account devoted to her scarves attracted nearly 41,000 followers.

Birx noted that her mask on Wednesday was a gift from the Salt River Tribe in Arizona which she visited last week.

Public health officials have said face masks can prevent the spread of disease and allow for safer economic activity. While some people have resisted wearing the coverings, several states and cities are now requiring them.

President Donald Trump has refused to wear a mask publicly or ask Americans to do so, although he has said he would if he was in a crowd and could not distance himself. Vice President Mike Pence and many other Republicans, meanwhile, have urged greater mask wearing.

Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Susan Heavey; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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