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Trump administration moves toward promoting broader use of face masks

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is formalizing new guidance to recommend that many Americans wear face coverings when leaving home, in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

The recommendations, still being finalized Thursday, would apply to those who live in areas hard-hit by community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19. A person familiar with the White House coronavirus task force’s discussion said officials would suggest that non-medical masks, T-shirts, or bandannas be used to cover the nose and mouth when outside the home — for instance, at the grocery store or pharmacy. Medical-grade masks, particularly short-in-supply N95 masks, would be reserved for those dealing directly with the sick.

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The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the proposed guidance before its public release.

Trump, who was tested again for COVID-19 on Thursday using a new rapid test, indicated Tuesday he would support such a recommendation, potentially even for all Americans regardless of where they live. “I would say do it, but use a scarf if you want, you know, rather than going out and getting a mask or whatever.”

“It’s not a bad idea, at least for a period of time,” he added.

The White House said Trump’s latest test returned a negative result in 15 minutes, and said Trump was “healthy and without symptoms.”

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention draft of the guidance suggested the covering recommendation apply to nearly all Americans, all over the country, according to a federal official who has seen the draft but was not authorized to discuss it.

But officials were moving to limit its geographic scope to just those areas where the virus was spreading rapidly, the official said. The formal announcement was expected as soon as Friday.

Under the previous guidance, only the sick or those at high risk of complications from the respiratory illness were advised to wear masks. The new proposal was driven by research showing that some infections are being spread by people who seem to be healthy.

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On Wednesday, Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, urged his city’s 4 million residents to wear masks when they’re in public. On Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed suit in his city, the epicenter of the virus’ spread in the US.

In response to recent studies, the CDC on Wednesday changed how it was defining the risk of infection for Americans. It essentially says anyone may be a considered a carrier, whether they have symptoms or not.

The virus spreads mostly through droplets from coughs or sneezes, though experts stress that the germ is still not fully understood.

US officials have been telling people to stay at home as much as possible, and keep at least 6 feet away from others when they do go out. Other advice includes frequent hand washing and not touching your face.

But until now federal officials have stopped short of telling people to cover their faces out in public.

US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams has repeatedly admonished Americans not to wear face masks, saying they don’t prevent the people who wear them from catching the virus. He and other officials have stressed that surgical face masks and other protective medical equipment have been in short supply and must be prioritized for people such as health care workers.

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The World Health Organization on Monday reiterated its advice that the general population doesn’t need to wear masks unless they’re sick. Since the epidemic began in China, the WHO has said masks are for the sick and people caring for them.