The CDC now recommends that cloth masks should be worn in public settings where social distancing measures are hard to practice, like in grocery stores and pharmacies.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had previously said that masks were not necessary unless a person was sick.
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The reversal in decision comes as evidence mounts that coronavirus carriers can spread the virus even if they are asymptomatic, meaning they are not visibly ill.
“This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms,” an April 3 statement read from the CDC’s website.
“CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others,” the statement continued.
The CDC also said that cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials. Scrap fabric, a bandana, or an old t-shirt can be used to fashion a mask.
Advice for how to wear a cloth face covering include ensuring the mask fits comfortably against the side of the face, is secured with ties or ear loops, includes multiple layers of fabric, allows for breathing without restriction, and is able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape. The CDC recommends regularly washing masks depending on how frequently they are used.
For those wanting to make their own masks, the CDC provided instructions for two types of masks, sew and no-sew.
Previously, the CDC said essential workers who are asymptomatic after exposure to a confirmed or suspected coronavirus case can return to work, but should wear face masks and take other precautions on April 9.
Cloth masks are not as effective as the standard N95, but even a rudimentary cloth covering is effective in trapping droplets from coughs and sneezes. Where coronavirus can spread through these droplets, minimizing their potential reach is important in slowing its spread.
Homemade masks do a good job at stopping germs from getting out, but there is still debate on how effective they are at stopping germs from getting in, reported the New York Times.