CDC recommends wearing masks during pandemic

WASHINGTON - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now advising Americans to voluntarily wear a basic cloth or fabric face mask to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

These non-medical masks can be either purchased online or simply made at home, the CDC says.

After insisting for weeks that healthy people did not need to wear masks in most circumstances, federal health officials decided to change their guidance in response to a growing body of evidence that people who do not appear to be sick are playing an outsized role in the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The transmission from individuals without symptoms is playing a more significant role in the spread of the virus than previously understood," President Donald Trump said Friday when announcing the new advice at a White House briefing. "So you don't seem to have symptoms and it still gets transferred."

He emphasized that rules on social distancing remain in place, and he asked members of the public not to wear medical-grade masks because those should be reserved for healthcare workers.

Trump also described the guidelines as voluntary.

"I don't think I'm going to be doing it," he said.

"I'm feeling good," he added when pressed about his response. "Sitting in the Oval Office, behind that beautiful Resolute desk, the great Resolute desk, as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens - I don't know, somehow I don't see it for myself. Maybe I'll change my mind."

Surgeon General Jerome Adams acknowledged that government advice about masks has been "confusing to the American people."

Until now, the CDC has said that healthy people do not need a mask unless they are working in a healthcare setting or caring for an infected person. "The best available evidence" did not suggest that wearing a mask would do much to protect a healthy person from contracting COVID-19, Adams said.

But now that it's clear asymptomatic people are spreading the virus, federal health officials decided everyone should wear cloth face coverings in places such as grocery stores and pharmacies, he said.

The masks will "help people who do have the virus and do not know it" by limiting their ability to transmit it to others, he said.

Adams also advised people to make sure their hands were clean before donning a mask: "If you choose to wear a face covering, wash your hands first."

The move comes as a growing number of local and state agencies are offering similar guidance.

California officials said Wednesday that covering your face could prevent you from becoming infected with the new coronavirus or from spreading it to others. But they stressed that masks should not be seen as a substitute for social distancing, hand washing and other safety measures.

"Face coverings could provide some additional protection against COVID-19, but Californians should not have a false sense of security if they choose to wear them," Dr. Mark Ghaly, California's health and human services secretary, said in a statement. "Make sure you're also staying six feet away from other people if you have to leave your home to get groceries or prescriptions."

Like the CDC, state officials have said people should not use medical or surgical masks, which are desperately needed by medical personnel.

Riverside County health officials released new mask guidance Tuesday, covering such essential situations as grocery shopping and medical visits.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that everyone performing essential tasks, such as food shopping, should wear homemade, non-medical face coverings, or even bandannas, as people in other countries have done.

"To be clear, you should still stay at home. This isn't an excuse to suddenly all go out," Garcetti said.