U.S. expected to recommend masks for Americans in coronavirus hotspots

The White House is expected to urge Americans who live in areas of high coronavirus transmission to wear cloth face coverings to prevent the spread of the virus, a senior administration official told NBC News on Thursday night.

Vice President Mike Pence addressed the potential for a mask advisory, based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance at Thursday’s daily press 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 earlier Thursday about the expected guidelines.

White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx was careful to caution 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.”

Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, urged the White House this week to recommend mask usage 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 infected with the virus. The White House has been urging people without symptoms not to buy N95 or medical masks, fearing that 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 not showing symptoms.

President Donald Trump earlier Thursday said he didn’t 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.”

Julie Tsirkin contributed.

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