US President Donald Trump, who was known to avoid wearing a mask in public even in times of wild spreading of the coronavirus pandemic, donned with a mask on Saturday at a military medical facility outside Washington as he was to meet wounded soldiers and front-line healthcare workers.

His visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center marked the US president's first public appearance with a face-covering since COVID-19 began spreading across America, earlier this year.

Trump had previously advocated that wearing a mask was a personal choice, as he had refused to wear one in public or even ask other Americans to do so. But he had said he would wear a mask if he was in a crowd when he could not maintain distance from others, reported Reuters news agency.

Trump wears mask
President Donald Trump appeared for the first time with a mask in public Twitter/SABC News

Great Thing to Wear a Mask: Trump

"I think when you are in a hospital, especially in that particular setting when you are talking to a lot of soldiers, people that in some cases just got off the operating table, I think it's a great thing to wear a mask," Trump told reporters at the White House just before he visited Walter Reed.

At the medical facility, the president walked by the gathered media for a carefully staged photo opportunity, while he wore a navy blue mask emblazoned with a presidential seal embossed in gold. He simply said "thank you" as he walked past.

Top public health officials urged using face masks in order to slow down the spreading of the novel coronavirus, which by Friday claimed almost 134,000 lives in the US. Critics told Trump's refusal to wear a mask reflected his lack of leadership.

Political Gimmick?

Other US officials in Trump's administration had already called for the wide usage of masks and social distancing. Trump, who is yet to face re-election in the coming months is pressured by states to reopen closed economies.

Many states have relaxed coronavirus restrictions, while the coronavirus has found a new toehold. The COVID-19 respiratory illness caused by SARS-CoV-2 (novel coronavirus), rose by more than 69,000 on Friday, marking a third daily record.

According to a Reuters tally, the total number of confirmed US infections topped 3 million.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's spokesman said Trump spent months ignoring experts' advice and politicized wearing a mask.

"Rather than taking responsibility and leading, he wasted four months that Americans have been making sacrifices by stoking divisions and actively discouraging people from taking a very basic step to protect each other," said the spokesperson.