At his weekly public audience Wednesday at the Vatican, Pope Francis kept his distance from the faithful, who had come to hear him, but once again appeared in public without a mask amid a resurgence of COVID-19 in Italy. The pope told his audience — which was much smaller than usual due to the surging infection rate — he would love to come down and greet them, but “this is contrary to the measures and the precautions we must take in order to face ‘Madame COVID.'” Francis went without a protective mask Wednesday even when he greeted a few mask-less bishops at the end of his audience. FILE – Pope Francis wears a face mask as he attends an inter-religious prayer service for peace in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, a church on top of Rome’s Capitoline Hill, in Rome, Italy, Oct. 20, 2020.Francis has only been seen wearing a mask in public twice — on September 9 as he entered and exited his general audience, and last week during a two-hour interfaith prayer service in downtown Rome. Thirteen Swiss Guards and a resident of the guest house where the pope lives have recently tested positive for COVID-19. Vatican regulations require masks indoors and outdoors when social distancing cannot be guaranteed. 

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