City officials in New York are now advising all people to wear masks of some kind when they go out in public.
Previous guidelines recommended people only cover their faces if they were sick.
"We're advising New Yorkers to wear a face covering when you go outside and near other people," Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference Thursday. "It can be a scarf, it can be something you create at home, it can be a bandana."
Residents are discouraged from wearing surgical masks or buying any medical grade equipment, however. City and state officials have for weeks expressed concern about a potential shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in hospitals and price-gouging for the supplies on the consumer market.
The PPE supply shortage is of such concern that Governor Andrew Cuomo has hospitals accounting for all their supplies on the state level and sharing inventory, shipping up and down state as need arrises.
"When you think of masks, you think of what our health care workers and first responders need and those precious supplies that we're bringing in, those PPEs, that's for them and all those people at the front line who need it," de Blasio said.
City health officials added that people should keep more than one face covering handy to alternate between the two.
The reversal in messaging comes as confirmed coronavirus cases in NYC alone top 51,000. Since the virus spreads before symptoms are evident, officials say people are better off safe than sorry.
Vice President Mike Pence is expected to recommend similar face-covering guidelines for virus hotspots.
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