President Donald Trump on Friday said new guidance from the Centers for Disease and Prevention urges Americans to wear cloth face coverings in public to prevent the spread of the virus.
"The CDC is advising the use of nonmedical cloth face covering as a voluntary health measure," Trump said during his Friday briefing. "It is voluntary. They suggested for a period of time. This is voluntary.”
“The CDC is not recommending the use of medical grade or surgical grade masks," he added, noting things such as the N95 respirators need to be saved for medical professionals.
The country has been dealing with a dire shortage of critical protective gear, including masks and gloves for medical professionals. Many Americans already have been opting to cover their noses and mouths with makeshift masks, including bandannas, scarves or other wraps.
However, Trump said he will not follow that guidance.
"I just don't want to wear one myself, it's a recommendation," he said. "Somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk, the great Resolute Desk, I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, dictators, kings, queens, I don't know, I don't see it for myself."
Trump stressed that Americans should still follow the administration's social distancing guidelines. Surgeon General Jerome Adams also said hygiene is still important, particularly before putting on the mask.
"If you choose to wear a face covering, wash your hands first," he said.
Vice President Mike Pence addressed the potential for a mask advisory based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at Thursday's daily briefing on the pandemic.
He said the new guidance, based on "consultation and advice from the CDC and top health experts," would come "in the days ahead."
Bloomberg reported the expected guidelines on Thursday.
Trump said during a news briefing on April 2 that he invoked the Defense Production Act to get 3M Company to produce more masks. Trump has previously invoked the act and other measures to get the private sector to ramp up the production of ventilators and respirators.
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Earlier this month, Trump extended nationwide social distancing guidelines for another 30 days as coronavirus cases increased. There have been more than 230,000 cases in the U.S. and over 5,400 deaths as of April 3.
The shift in guidelines comes as Dr. Deborah Birx, one of the government's top doctors, warned earlier this week that many as 240,000 people in the U.S. could die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus — and that’s only with strict social distancing measures in place.
The mayors of America's two largest cities, Los Angeles and New York, have in recent days urged their residents to wear face coverings when in public.
Birx was careful to caution at the briefing Thursday that any recommendation on masks must be "additive" and not a substitute for existing social distancing guidelines. Birx said people often feel "an artificial sense of protection because they are behind a mask."
"Don't get a false sense of security," she said.
Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., urged the White House this week to recommend masks as a complement to social distancing.
They welcomed news of an imminent advisory.
"Wearing a cloth mask is not a substitute for staying home and regularly washing our hands," the duo said in a joint statement Thursday. "By wearing a cloth mask when in public, we will limit transmission of the virus. Put simply, my mask protects you, and your mask protects me."
Initial CDC guidelines advised Americans against wearing masks unless they were medical professionals or were infected with the virus. The White House has been urging people without symptoms not to buy N95 or medical masks, fearing it would lead to further shortages.
The expected advisory, officials say, is aimed at reducing the risk of spread by people who are infected but are not showing symptoms.
President Donald Trump said earlier Thursday that he did not think masks would be required.
"I don't think they'll be mandatory, because some people don't want to do that," he said. "If people wanted to wear them, they can. If people want to use scarves, which they have, many people have them, they can. In many cases the scarf is better, it's thicker, depending on the material."