The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday recommended that Americans should start to wear cloth face coverings in public settings.
The CDC’s suggestions come after new evidence showed that patients with COVID-19—the disease caused by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus—could spread the virus before showing any symptoms.
The agency urged people to use the cloth face coverings in places where social distancing measures are challenging to maintain, including grocery stores and pharmacies, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.
However, the CDC emphasized people should still follow the 6-feet rule of social distancing.
“It is critical to emphasize that maintaining 6-feet social distancing remains important to slowing the spread of the virus,” the agency said in a statement. “CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.”
The cloth face coverings can be household items or products made from home with everyday materials.
However, the CDC suggested that only health care workers should use surgical masks or N95 respirators.
“Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders,” CDC stated.
President Donald Trump announced the new CDC advisory earlier the day during the White House CCP Virus Task Force press briefing.
“The CDC is announcing additional steps Americans can take to defend against the transmission of the virus,” he said. “In light of these studies, the CDC is advising the use of non-medical cloth face coverings as an additional voluntary public health measure.”
Trump said that transmission from individuals without symptoms is playing a more significant role in the spread of the virus than previously understood based on recent studies.
In a report published by the CDC on April 1, researchers looked at 243 cases in Singapore from January through March. They identified seven clusters of cases where the “most likely explanation” for the secondary cases of infection was “presymptomatic transmission.”
The CDC defined presymptomatic transmission as “the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from an infected person (source patient) to a secondary patient before the source patient developed symptoms.”
According to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, there are over a million confirmed cases around the world, with over 278,400 of them in the United States.
The number is considered to be inaccurate because of the underreporting of cases from mainland China.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health posted guidance (pdf) on “homemade masks” on its website.
“Homemade masks made out of fabric and cloth are not considered” personal protective equipment, according to the website.
But homemade masks such as a scarf or bandana can limit the spread of droplets containing the CCP virus.
“When a homemade mask can’t be acquired, a scarf or bandana can be utilized. By implementing community use of these homemade fabric or cloth masks, everyone will have a higher degree of protection from this virus,” the department said.
Wearing such a mask, the department said, might be helpful while shopping at essential businesses, visiting a doctor or hospital, using public transportation, interacting with people at businesses, or when feeling sick.
“Because homemade masks protect everyone else from the droplets created by the wearer, it is essential that as many people as possible wear these masks when leaving their homes.
“This helps prevent those who may be infectious but are only mildly symptomatic or not symptomatic from spreading the virus to others in the community. Everyone should remember the phrase ‘my mask protects you, your mask protects me,'” it said.
Zachary Stieber and Jack Phillips contributed to this report.