The CDC now recommends that you wear a cloth face covering—not a medical mask—when you are in a public place where it is difficult to keep six feet away from other people. You must continue physical distancing while out of your home, but that can be tricky in close quarters like at a pharmacy or grocery store.
CDC’s updated recommendation is based on new evidence that caused public health officials to revise how they weigh the potential benefits and risks associated with non-medical masks. Multiple studies now confirm that people with the virus can infect others before they show symptoms. However, when scientists have tested how well cloth masks or handkerchiefs prevent the spread of pathogens that are similar in size to the novel coronavirus (50-200 nanometers), the results suggest that these coverings may offer only limited, if any, protection. But given the seriousness of COVID-19, public health officials are asking us to take every possible precaution—including wearing a cloth face mask—in addition to physical distancing and hand hygiene.
Because the evidence supporting homemade or cloth masks is limited, you should keep up the good habits while in public: wash your hands before you leave home and when you return, stay six feet away from others whenever possible, and—sing it with me—do not touch your face. Be sure to wash reusable cloth masks regularly to prevent the spread of the virus.
Remember, medical masks are NOT recommended for public use. In the U.S., we have a shortage of masks or other personal protective equipment, and frontline healthcare workers need them before everyone else.
Last updated April 4, 2020
Science reviewed by JSS, GSN