To Slow the Spread of the Coronavirus, the CDC Now Advises Wearing Cloth Face Masks in Public

The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) is advising all Americans to wear cloth face masks in public, a new national guideline to combat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. President Donald Trump announced the change in guidelines on April 3, following the lead of health officials in California, New York, and elsewhere who had already recommended similar practices.

It's a pivot from earlier CDC recommendations that only healthcare professionals, people displaying symptoms of COVID-19, and caregivers of infected individuals should use protective masks. CDC Director Robert Redfield recently told NPR that as much as 25 percent of coronavirus cases could be asymptomatic, data which appears to be at least one factor behind the decision. Face masks are meant to obstruct the flow of the pathogen from the wearer to those around them, and if people who feel fine may still be transmitting the virus, higher face mask usage could help slow the spread.

Word of the expected change came from a federal official on April 2, prior to a statement being made. President Trump made the official announcement in a press briefing the following day, adding that cloth masks would not be mandatory and that medical masks (including N95 face masks and surgical face masks) should be reserved for healthcare workers on the front lines of the outbreak.

According to memos drafted by the CDC for the White House and obtained by The Washington Post, the face masks should reach from above your nose to below your chin, completely covering your mouth and nostrils, fitting tightly on the sides of your face, and securing with loops around your ears or ties around the back of your head. They should be thick, with multiple layers of fabric, but not restrict your breathing in any way. You should also be able to wash and machine-dry your mask without ruining its shape.

Wearing a cloth face mask isn't necessarily meant to protect the wearer's own health, but rather to prevent them from unwittingly spreading the virus to others. Because of that, you should continue to practice the precautions already in place, including staying six feet away from others in public, washing your hands frequently and with soap and water, and avoiding touching your face. Here's more you can do to help stem the spread of the coronavirus, which cleaning products help to combat it, and what you can do to treat it at home.

POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.