Trump expected to recommend certain Americans wear masks to limit virus spread
President Trump is expected to announce guidance encouraging certain Americans to wear masks or face coverings when leaving the home to limit transmission of the coronavirus.
The specific language of the guidance was not yet finalized as of Thursday afternoon, according to a person familiar with the matter, but it is likely to apply to those living in parts of the country that have been subject to outbreaks to curb asymptomatic individuals from spreading the virus.
Vice President Pence said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will be issuing the advisory in the “next several days.” But health officials have cautioned that the use of masks should not supersede existing social distancing guidelines, warning that a face covering will not prevent individuals without the virus from catching it.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus response, told reporters at a news briefing that she worried expansive use of face coverings could lull people into a “false sense of security.”
“The most important thing is the social distancing and washing your hands,” Birx said. “And we don’t want people to get an artificial sense of protection because they’re behind a mask. Because if they’re touching things—remember your eyes are not in the mask—so if you’re touching things and then touching your eyes, you’re exposing yourself in the same way.”
Trump added that the eventual guidance will not make using a face covering mandatory. He added that the order will be “nationwide,” though officials have disputed that will be the case.
Stat News first reported that Trump would urge Americans to follow new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and fashion masks out of bandanas, T-shirts or other available cloth materials to avoid further draining already scarce amounts of personal protective equipment needed for hospital workers treating those with the virus.
Moments before the White House began its daily briefing on the virus, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) urged residents to wear makeshift face coverings when going outside.
The Surgeon General in early March warned Americans to stop buying masks, insisting they were needed for health care workers and writing they are “NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus.”
But the administration’s calculation seems to have changed as countries like South Korea and Japan have used masks to help slow the spread of the disease and as officials consider ways to ease Americans back toward normalcy as quickly as possible.
Certain health experts in the U.S., including former FDA Administrator Scott Gottlieb, have suggested widespread use of masks could help halt the spread of the disease via asymptomatic individuals who do not realize they are carrying the virus.
There are now more than 1 million officially confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University data, with more than 236,000 of those in the U.S.
Morgan Chalfant contributed.
Updated: 7:12 p.m.