Mitch McConnell stressed the importance of wearing a mask in public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in comments he made on Thursday.

The Senate Majority Leader was touring hospitals in his home state of Kentucky to thank healthcare workers when he spoke about why wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines is so crucial. It was Mr McConnell’s first public appearance in Kentucky since the start of the pandemic. He is seeking reelection for a seventh term.

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“There should be no stigma attached to wearing a mask," said the Republican leader. “And even among age groups that are least likely to either contract this disease or die from it, you could be a carrier. So I think what we all need to do is say, ‘OK, I’m going to take responsibility not only for myself but for others.’”

As with many members of Congress, being in his late 70s Mr McConnell is in a high risk category if he were to contract the virus.

He has worn masks in the Senate and at other public appearances in accordance with guidelines from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The issue of wearing a mask has been politicised as the coronavirus lockdown has gone on, with polls finding that conservatives are less likely to wear a mask than liberals, despite all of the recommendations and evidence showing their effectiveness.

Donald Trump has refused to use a mask despite the first lady filming a public service message about their role in stopping the spread of infection. He recently accused a reporter of being "politically correct" for not taking his mask off to ask a question, and mocked former vice president Joe Biden for wearing one at a Memorial Day event.

Wearing masks and maintaining social distancing standards is considered an important part of reopening state economies, while continuing to curb the spread of Covid-19 and stop case numbers from rising again as people emerge from their homes.

Masks have been made mandatory in public by some state and local governments, and many stores do not let customers enter if they are not wearing one.

Democrat Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear has repeatedly stressed the use of masks as people increasingly venture out as the economy gradually gets rebooted.

“This is not a battle between political parties or ideologies,” the governor said recently. “It’s plain, basic public health guidance that’s out there from the CDC and from everywhere else. It’s the same guidance on the federal and on the state level. And it’s just smart, right?”

Mr McConnell came to Mr Beshear’s defence last weekend when an angry protest against coronavirus restrictions took place outside the governor’s mansion and he was hanged in effigy.

The Senator described the actions of the protesters as “completely outrageous and unacceptable”.

With reporting from the Associated Press