“I think what you are referring to is a photo of them walking out of a restaurant after they had eaten, mask in hand—where they had not yet put them back on yet,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during a briefing.
The president and First Lady Jill Biden were both seen without masks in videos and pictures while walking in Fiola Mare, a restaurant in the nation’s capital.
The decision to move around without masks violated the city’s indoor mask mandate and the restaurant’s masking rules.
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, over the summer reinstituted the indoor mandate, which says everybody in indoor public spaces must don masks, with limited situations where one is not required such as when one is eating and drinking.
Individuals or entities that “knowingly violate” the order can be fined up to $1,000 and could lose their licenses to operate.
Masks must always be worn inside Fiola Mare unless a person is eating or drinking, the restaurant’s website says.
Fiola Mare did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I would say, of course, there are moments when we all don’t put masks back on as quickly as we should,” Psaki said.
“I don’t think we should lose the forest for the trees here—in that our objective here is to get more people vaccinated, make sure that schools and companies around the country can put in place requirements to save more lives and keep more people safer,” she added.
Pressed on what happened by a reporter who noted that Biden “was walking through the restaurant with no mask on,” the press secretary tried to end further discussion by saying, “I think I just addressed it.”
No other reporters asked about the situation.
Bowser has also been recorded inside establishments in Washington without a mask.
Biden’s move drew criticism from some, including podcaster Benny Johnson.
“Every American deserves an answer from @JoeBiden directly explaining why he thinks is allowed to break rules that he demands others to follow,” Johnson wrote on Twitter.
“Rules for thee, but not for me,” added Nathan Brand, deputy communications director for the Republican National Committee.
Biden has repeatedly exhorted Americans to wear masks, saying it’s a way to make sure people stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. His predecessor Donald Trump often went without a mask but also said it was up to each person whether to wear one or not.