WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced new federal guidelines Friday recommending that Americans wear face coverings when in public to help fight the spread of the new coronavirus. The president immediately said he had no intention of following that advice himself, saying, “I'm choosing not to do it.”
The new guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages people, especially in areas hit hard by the spread of the coronavirus, to use rudimentary coverings like T-shirts, bandannas and non-medical masks to cover their faces while outdoors.
The president exempted himself from his administration's own guidelines, saying he could not envision himself covering his face while sitting in the Oval Office greeting world leaders.
“It's a recommendation, they recommend it,” Trump said. “I just don't want to wear one myself.”
The new guidance, announced as states are bracing for critical shortfalls like those that other parts of the world have experienced, raises concern that it could cause a sudden run on masks.
Trump and other administration officials sought to minimize any burden by stressing the recommendations did not amount to requirements and that a variety of homemade coverings were acceptable. Federal officials said that surgical masks and N95 respirator marks should be left for those on the front lines of fighting the spread of the infection.
Friday's announcement capped an evolution in guidance from the White House that officials acknowledged has been inconsistent.
“I want to unpack the evolution of our guidance on masks because it has been confusing to the American people,” said Surgeon General Jerome Adams.
Adams, who had repeatedly and publicly advised against the need for face coverings, said Friday that although and he other public health experts initially believed wearing a mask would not have a substantial impact on curbing the spread, the latest evidence makes clear that people who don't show any symptoms can nonetheless pass on the virus.
“We have told you that from the beginning that we are evolving our recommendations, and new recommendations will come as the evidence dictates,” Adams said.
First lady Melania Trump embodied the contradictory messaging with a tweet endorsing the new guidance even as her husband chooses to disregard it.
“As the weekend approaches I ask that everyone take social distancing & wearing a mask/face covering seriously,” she tweeted.
In rural Florida, Okeechobee Discount Drugs has been sold out of face masks for almost two weeks, and “we don't know where you can find any masks at this point,” said Stacey Nelson, one of the pharmacy's owners.
The White House has faced pushback against rigorous social distancing guidelines from states with lesser rates of infection. For the hardest-hit areas, where social distancing has already been in place for some time, the White House coronavirus task force thought there would be less risk from people ignoring the other guidance if they covered their faces.
The CDC is recommending that people wearing cloth face coverings in public places, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, where “other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” The guidance especially applies “in areas of significant community-based transmission.”