Donald Trump has urged Americans to wear face masks in public to help fight the spread of coronavirus – but insisted he will not follow suit because “he doesn’t want to”.
Despite the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the president said he had no intention of following the advice himself, adding: “I’m choosing not to do it.”
Mr Trump said he could not envision himself covering his face while sitting in the Oval Office greeting world leaders.
“It’s a recommendation, they recommend it,” he said.
“I just don’t want to wear one myself.”
The new guidance has raised fears that it could cause a sudden run on masks if Americans turn to private industry to meet the expected surge in demand during the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr Trump and other administration officials sought to minimise any burden by stressing the recommendations did not amount to requirements and a variety of homemade coverings were perfectly acceptable.
Federal officials stressed that surgical masks and N95 respirators should be left for those on the front lines of fighting the spread of the infection.
Friday’s announcement capped an evolution in messaging from the White House that officials acknowledged has at times been confusing.
This was evident as first lady Melania Trump tweeted: “As the weekend approaches I ask that everyone take social distancing & wearing a mask/face covering seriously.”
The administration has said states should have done more to stockpile medical supplies, but it is not clear if anyone is prepared for the potential rush that could ensue if people try to obtain medical masks for themselves.
It is believed the recommendations are a bid to balance political concerns about wanting to preserve as much normalcy as possible with public health concerns that some infections are being spread by people who seem to be healthy, which could infect areas that so far have been mostly spared.
Under previous guidance, only the sick or those at high risk of complications from the respiratory illness were advised to wear masks.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams wrote on Twitter at the end of February that people should “STOP BUYING MASKS” and said they were not effective in protecting the general public.
On Monday, he noted that the World Health Organisation does not recommend masks for healthy members of the population.
Three days later, he tweeted that though there remains “scant” evidence that wearing a mask, especially improperly, can protect the wearer, “emerging data suggests facial coverings may prevent asymptomatic disease transmission to others”.