April 3 (UPI) -- U.S. health officials now recommend that all Americans wear cloth face masks in public to protect themselves and others during the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump announced Friday.
He said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Americans -- regardless of whether they're sick -- should wear fabric masks, not medical-grade respirators, which are desperately needed by doctors and nurses running short on supplies.
"It's going to be really a voluntary thing," Trump said during the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing.
"You can do it. You don't have to do it. I'm choosing not to do it, but some people may want to do it, and that's okay."
The CDC initially recommended that only people exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 should wear masks and that wearing one doesn't protect healthy people from contracting the virus. Public health officials were also concerned that if non-healthcare workers wore the n95 respirator masks, it could further put pressure on a dwindling supply.
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But scientists say even people without symptoms could carry and spread the disease to others. Wearing a mask means even asymptomatic COVID-19-positive people could limit how much they spread the virus when grocery shopping or carrying out essential errands in public.
The CDC said medical-grade masks aren't necessary to limit the spread of the disease. Officials say Americans can even make their own masks at home.
This week, the mayors of Los Angeles and New York City urged residents there to wear face coverings while in public -- even going so far as to recommend scarves and bandanas.
"To be clear, you should still stay at home. This isn't an excuse to suddenly all go out," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garrett said Thursday.
The CDC recommendation came as the United States' number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached at least 273,000 on Friday and the death toll crossed the 7,000 threshold, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.