(FOX) — President Trump on Friday announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending Americans wear facial coverings made of cloth while out in public to help stop the spread of coronavirus — though the president repeatedly called it “voluntary” and said he wouldn’t do it himself.
The change in guidelines signals a major shift in how officials are looking to combat the spread of COVID-19. The president, during a briefing with the White House coronavirus task force, said the recommendation is being made because of studies indicating asymptomatic people are spreading the virus.
“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. “So it’s voluntary. You don’t have to do it.”
The president added: “I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.” He said he can’t imagine himself sitting in the Oval Office of the White House behind “that beautiful Resolute Desk” wearing a mask.
In a Friday statement, the CDC said “the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity-for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing-even if those people are not exhibiting 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 said.
For weeks, the general public was advised by both the Trump administration and the CDC as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) that only those who were ill or had underlying health issues should wear face masks, and that the surgical masks and N95 protective gear should be reserved for health care workers.
But Dr. Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, said during the briefing they’ve evolved on the issue because of the number of asymptomatic people who may be spreading coronavirus. He pleaded with Americans who are not sick to leave the N95 and surgical masks for medical professionals and instead make homemade cloth coverings if they decide to use them.
Also during the press conference, Trump announced that the federal government will reimburse hospitals for treating people who don’t have insurance if they become sick from coronavirus. The president opened the briefing by emphasizing how New York City, Louisiana, Michigan and New Jersey are among the hardest-hit places in the United States.
The announcements came as the White House is taking new steps to protect the president and vice president: it said those who come into close proximity to Trump or Vice President Pence will be required to take a rapid COVID-19 test. The required tests, the White House said, began Friday for anyone working with the president or vice president in the coming days and weeks.
The new testing guidelines will only apply to people who will be in close contact with the president. This would include some staff members, as well as people who might be sitting beside him at a meeting.
The CDC move recommending all Americans wear mask when outside comes after some local officials advised their residents to wear either homemade masks or face coverings while out for essential travel.
“Because of some recent information that the virus can actually be spread even when people just speak as opposed to coughing and sneezing – the better part of valor is that when you’re out, when you can’t maintain that 6-foot distance, to wear some sort of facial covering,” task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci said while appearing on “Fox & Friends” on Friday.
Fauci said the new guidelines do not aim to take away the availability of such supplies for frontline workers, who have been making public pleas for more personal protective equipment as governors scramble to secure supplies. He also said that wearing a face covering does not mean Americans should ignore the federal social distancing guidelines that people should stay six feet away from each other when out.
“The important point to emphasize though is that that should in no way ever take away from the availability of masks that are needed for the health care providers who are in real and present danger of getting infected from the people that they are taking care of,” Fauci said of the expected guidance. “This is an addendum and in addition to the physical separation, not as a substitute for it.”
The debate over face masks has raged for several weeks, with some officials arguing that advising the public to wear coverings would create a false sense of security that would in turn see people abandon social distancing and thorough handwashing. Others say wearing the mask improperly, or constantly fidgeting with it could increase the risk of contracting COVID-19.
“If the CDC does put out such guidance, I would respect it. I can tell you having drafted many CDC guidelines over the years that these are done very carefully and on the best available evidence,” former CDC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Amler told Fox News on Tuesday. “Those guidelines, when they do go out, are not casual or frivolous.”
“It’s protective for people around you – that’s going to be the case whether or not there is a shortage,” he added of masks.
Fox News’ John Roberts, Brooke Singman, Alexandria Hein and The Associated Press contributed to this report.