The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending that Americans wear cloth face coverings out in public, President Trump announced in a Coronavirus Task Force briefing Friday afternoon, emphasizing that the guidance is "voluntary."
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also announced the Trump administration is finding a way to use some of the $100 billion provided to hospitals through the CARES Act to cover uninsured patients, reimbursing care providers at Medicare rates. The details, Azar said, are being worked out now.
The CDC changed its recommendations to suggest that Americans wear non-medical-grade face coverings like a cloth mask when they go out, stressing that the supply of medical-grade masks needs to be reserved for health care workers. Such face coverings don't provide proven protection against becoming infected, but can keep people who are infected from spreading the virus to others.
"So it's voluntary, you don't have to do it," the president said. "...This is voluntary. I don't think I'm going to be doing it."
Mr. Trump added that he's feeling "good," and doesn't want to wear one as he sits behind the Resolute Desks and greets foreign dignitaries. Moments later, the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams appeared to undermine the president's reasoning for not wearing a mask, emphasizing that people who are asymptomatic are believed to be a significant source for spreading the virus. Wearing a mask, Adams highlighted, benefits a person's neighbors.
During the briefing, First Lady Melania Trump tweeted to encourage everyone to wear a mask or face covering.
"As the weekend approaches I ask that everyone take social distancing & wearing a mask/face covering seriously. #COVID19 is a virus that can spread to anyone - we can stop this together," her account said.
Mr. Trump said U.S. is engaged in a "historic" battle to safeguard its citizens, urging people to stay at home.
"This is ending; this will end," the president said.
On Friday afternoon, the U.S. had more than 270,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and nearly 7,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Dr. Deborah Birx, the task force's response coordinator, shared the the number of cases in California and Washington appears to be flattening, thanks to stringent social distancing measures. But she said she said there are "developing concerns" about Colorado, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
The briefing comes after the government released its monthly jobs report for March, which showed 701,000 lost jobs, showing the economy ground to a halt last month as a result of the pandemic.
The Department of Labor announced Thursday thatin the week ending March 28, an increase of more than 3 million claims from the previous week. Mr. Trump a massive $2 trillion package last week which expanded unemployment insurance as the economic fallout from the crisis worsens.
The majority of states have issued stay-at-home orders in response to the crisis, but some states have yet to implement such measures. In an interview with CNN, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading infectious diseases expert and a member of the task force, said he doesn't know why certain states have not yet issued stay-at-home orders.
"I don't understand why that's not happening," Fauci said. "If you look at what's going on in this country, I just don't understand why we're not doing that. We really should be."
Meanwhile, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 has surged to over 6,000. The coronavirus task force coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, has said officials are worried current social-distancing guidelines still aren't being taken seriously enough by many Americans to keep the country's death toll at or below 100,000.
— Grace Segers contributed to this report.