WASHINGTON: The White House is expected to issue guidance for people in areas hard hit by the coronavirus to wear face masks to help stop the spread of the virus, an administration official said on Thursday (Apr 2).

The announcement was not planned for Thursday, the official said, and would be targeted at areas with high community transmission of the coronavirus.

The administration has gone back and forth on whether to advise Americans to wear face masks. At the beginning of the pandemic officials encouraged people not to do so if they weren’t already sick, but they have been shifting away from that guidance and studying new policies in recent days.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an advisory, urging residents to wear face coverings when outside to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“We’re advising New Yorkers to wear a face covering when you go outside,” de Blasio said at a coronavirus briefing at City Hall.

“It could be a scarf. It could be something you create yourself at home. It could be a bandana. It does not, not need to be professional surgical mask,” he added.

The mayor emphasised surgical masks and N95 respirators should only be worn by first responders.

“Leave those to the people who need them the most who are saving lives,” said de Blasio.

Nearly 1,400 people have been killed by the virus in New York City, while an estimated 90 per cent of Americans are under orders to remain at home, in many cases unable to work and fearing infection when they leave to buy food or other necessities.

De Blasio said the NYPD would not be enforcing this advisory, adding “I think it will remain advisory for the foreseeable future because we have much more important things to achieve with enforcement.”

An emergency stockpile of medical equipment maintained by the US government has nearly run out of protective gear for doctors and nurses, as governors and healthcare providers across the country clamor for the gear and medical equipment such as ventilators, which help COVID-19 patients breathe.

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