President Donald Trump confirmed Thursday that his administration is close to providing recommendations on whether or not Americans should don face masks to ward off the coronavirus, but said that whatever guidance is offered wouldn’t be mandatory.
“I think they’re going to be coming out with regulations on that. If people want to abide them frankly — I don’t think they’ll be mandatory because some people don’t want to do that,” Trump said during a lengthy White House news conference. “If people wanted to wear them, they can. If people wanted to use scarves they can.”
Since the beginning of the outbreak, the U.S. government has said masks are not needed for the general public – and they have encouraged businesses with large stockpiles of masks to donate them to hospitals and other medical facilities. But administration officials have signaled in recent days they are reconsidering.
Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, expressed concerned about issuing a mask edict, saying the government doesn’t want to give people the idea that masks are a “substitute” for the social distancing guidelines.
“The most important thing is the social distancing and washing your hands,” she said. “And we don’t want people to get an artificial sense of protection because they’re behind a mask.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday afternoon said he is now recommending New Yorkers wear a “face covering” when outside or around others.
“It can be a scarf, a bandana or one you make at home,” he tweeted. “But PLEASE: save medical masks for our health care workers & first responders who truly need them.”