White House moves toward promoting face masks to fight virus

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President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 1, 2020, in Washington, as Vice President Mike Pence listens. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is formalizing new guidance to recommend that many Americans wear face coverings in an effort to slow the spread of the new coronavirus as the president defends his response to the crisis.

“Because of some recent information that the virus can actually be spread even when people just speak as opposed to coughing and sneezing -- the better part of valor is that when you’re out, when you can’t maintain that 6-foot distance, to wear some sort of facial covering,” the top U.S. infectious disease official said Friday on “Fox & Friends.”

But Dr. Anthony Fauci also made clear that the aim is not to "take away from the availability of masks that are needed for the health care providers who are in real and present danger of getting infected from the people that they’re taking care of.”

The recommendations were expected to 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 nonmedical masks, T-shirts or bandannas be used to cover the nose and mouth people go outside — 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.

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

President Donald Trump, who was tested again for coronavirus Thursday using a new rapid test, indicated he would support such a recommendation. The White House said Trump's latest test returned a negative result in 15 minutes and Trump was “healthy and without symptoms.”

Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force's coordinator, told reporters that the White House was concerned the mask guidance would lead to a “false sense of security” for Americans. She said new data shows the administration's social-distancing guidelines were not being followed to the extent necessary to keep virus-related deaths to a minimum.

The discussions on face masks came as the White House defended its handling of the pandemic, particularly its efforts to speed the distribution of ventilators and protective equipment needed by medical professionals.