April 2 (UPI) -- The mayors of Los Angeles and New York City on Thursday urged residents to wear face coverings while out in public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and the White House is also considering issuing a similar recommendation nationwide.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said during an afternoon news briefing that everyone performing essential tasks such as food shopping should wear homemade, non-medical face coverings including bandanas. He said residents should not use medical-grade masks.
"To be clear, you should still stay at home. This isn't an excuse to suddenly all go out," he said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a similar advisory, encouraging residents to use homemade masks as well as bandanas and scarves when "outside near other people."
De Blasio also discouraged New Yorkers from wearing surgical masks or other medical-grade masks, as hospitals in the area are experiencing equipment shortages as they work to treat more than 13,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
"When you think of masks, you think of what our healthcare workers and first responders need and those precious supplies that we're bringing in, those PPEs, that's for them and all those people at the front line who need it," he said.
The advisories are a reversal of previous recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously stated that healthy people do not need to wear a face mask unless they are caring for someone who is sick, but has since considered altering the guidance, The Washinton Post reported.
"In light of these new data, along with evidence of widespread transmission in communities across the country, CDC recommends the community use of cloth masks as an additional public health measure people can take to prevent the spread of the virus to those around them," a CDC guidance obtained by the Post said.
During a briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence said an advisory on nationwide mask usage would be made in the coming days.
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President Donald Trump suggested, however, it would not be a mandatory order.
"If people wanted to wear them they can, if people wanted to use scarfs, which they have, many people have them they can," he said.
"They can pretty much decide for themselves right now."
Task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx said an advisory would be an "additive" measure to guidelines already in place regarding social distancing and hand washing.
She warned that Americans wearing face masks in public must still remain conscious not to touch their eyes after touching other objects to avoid the risk of infection.
"We don't want people to feel like 'Oh, I'm wearing a mask, I'm protected and I'm protecting others,'" Birx said. "You may be protecting others but don't get a false sense of security that that mask is protecting you exclusively from getting infected because of the number of asymptomatic and mild cases that are out there."