Should Americans wear masks? Everything you need to know about new CDC guidelines

ByAlex Meier KABC logo
Friday, April 10, 2020
Americans can make face coverings at home using scarves, bandanas, hand towels and T-shirts.
Americans can make face coverings at home using scarves, bandanas, hand towels and T-shirts.

Do I need to wear a face mask in public? Why?

As of Friday, April 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans to wear face coverings in public.

This recommendation was updated to respond to new research on transmission, or the spread of COVID-19. Recent studies suggest that asymptomatic individuals, or people who do not show COVID-19 symptoms but have the disease, can transmit the virus to others. This means people who feel fine can spread the coronavirus to others in close proximity by speaking, coughing and sneezing.

Face coverings should be worn in public settings, such as grocery stores and pharmacies. This is especially important in communities with significant transmission.

United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams, however, warned that wearing face coverings does not mean people should stop practicing physical distancing.

"We don't want people to think, 'Hey, I'm going to wear a face covering, so it's appropriate for me to go around other people.' The most important thing to do is for people to stay at home," Dr. Adams said on "Good Morning America."

Anyone who must enter a public space, to shop for food, for example, should remain at least 6 feet apart from others.

What kind of face covering should I wear? Should I buy an N95 mask?

The general public should wear cloth face coverings, not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Health care workers on the front line of fighting this pandemic desperately need personal protective equipment, which is in short supply now.

Instead, use items found around the house, like a scarf, T-shirt, bandana or hand towel.

RELATED: Some states receive masks with dry rot, broken ventilators

How can I make a face mask at home?

The CDC offered three sets of instructions on how to make face coverings, with and without a sewing machine.

TUTORIAL: How to make face masks from materials found at home

Southern California resident Jennifer Ruvalcaba, known as Randomly Riley on Instagram, shows us how to make face masks at home.

TUTORIAL: How to make a face mask without sewing

Here is a tutorial on how to make a face mask without cutting or sewing. (via Japanese Creations) NOTE: VIDEO HAS NO AUDIO

For those who aren't as crafty, artists on Etsy are selling cloth face masks with fun patterns like sushi print and Yoda.

How should I wear a face covering? Does it need to be washed?

According to the CDC, face coverings should

  • Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • Be secured with ties or ear loops
  • Include multiple layers of fabric
  • Allow for breathing without restriction
  • Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape
  • Face coverings should be washed frequently if worn. Using a washing machine should suffice, the CDC advised. And be careful not to touch your eyes when removing the mask.

    Masks should not be worn by children under the age of two, since infants and toddlers may have trouble breathing.

    Is wearing a face covering mandatory? Can I get arrested for refusing to wear one?

    The federal government issued guidelines that recommend wearing face coverings in public, but that does not mean it is illegal to go outside without one.

    In Los Angeles and other California cities, wearing a face covering in businesses is now legally required. Both customers and workers at those businesses must wear masks under an order from Mayor Eric Garcetti issued April 9.

    The city of Laredo, Texas, released an ordinance that requires those in the area to cover their nose and mouth or face a $1,000 fine. The city, with a population of approximately 260,000, reported more than 80 cases of COVID-19 and five related deaths as of Saturday, April 4.