President Donald Trump announced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending Americans wear "non-medical cloth" face coverings and masks, despite a previous guidance that said only people who had already contracted the coronavirus should wear them. Trump said the new guidance was voluntary, adding that he is not planning to wear one. The decision came after a week of internal deliberations in the White House between officials.
A new page on the CDC website notes the agency knows from "recent studies" that many of the people who have the coronavirus are asymptomatic and others who eventually develop the symptoms "can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms." Therefore, the virus could spread between people interacting closely even if they are not showing symptoms. "In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission," the CDC page reads.
During Friday's press conference though, Trump said it was voluntary and he would not be wearing one after testing negative for the coronavirus a second time this week. "I don't think I'm going to be doing it," he said. "Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens — I just don't see it."
The decision came after weeks of officials saying Americans did not need to wear facemasks in public if they did not show symptoms of or test positive for the coronavirus. Sources told CNN there was a heated debate within the Trump Administration to change course, with some officials suggesting it could add to the confusion. Some officials also thought telling people to wear masks in public would lead to an increase of people ignoring social distancing, thinking that simply wearing a mask would help. Officials still put more hope in social distancing as the top method to slow the spread.
Dr. Jerome Adams, the Surgeon General, admitted Friday "it has been confusing to the American people," but said the change was based on the new information that people without symptoms might make up a significant portion of those with the coronvirus.
Another issue behind the recommendation is the lack of facemask supply throughout the country. Medical grade masks have been in short supply for health care workers already. Some White House officials were concerned that a CDC recommendation that all Americans wear masks would only worsen the problem. The recommendations did not specify which kind of facemasks Americans should get, although the CDC noted the face coverings are "not surgical masks or N-95 respirators," which should be reserved for health care workers.
"Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure," the CDC recommendation reads.
There are now more than 270,000 coronavirus cases in the U.S. The number of reported deaths reached over 7,000 on Friday.
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