WASHINGTON — The White House is expected to announce a new policy, based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that would urge Americans to wear cloth masks in an effort to prevent coronavirus spread, according to a federal official familiar with the policy.
In a draft document obtained by STAT, the CDC recommended that the public use homemade face coverings when in public, reserving higher-grade protective equipment like N95 masks for hospitals and health care workers, who have faced severe shortages in personal protective equipment as the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated through the United States.
Such face coverings, according to the draft guidance, would not be intended to protect the wearer, but rather prevent the wearer from unknowingly spreading the disease when in public. Individuals should wear face coverings in public settings like grocery stores, the guidance said. Children under the age of 2 and people experiencing trouble breathing would be excluded from the mask guidelines.
The guidance would serve as an attempt to prevent Americans from unknowingly spreading coronavirus before they experience symptoms. Evidence has shown that those infected with coronavirus are sometimes contagious two days before the onset of symptoms.
The official cautioned that the recommendations were not yet final, and that the White House could still alter its final recommendation.
The CDC acknowledged that wearing face masks in public is a highly unusual behavior in the United States, even though the tactic has long been employed as a personal hygiene measure in countries that have successfully slowed their coronavirus outbreaks, like Japan and South Korea.
The White House did not immediately respond to STAT’s request for comment.