President Donald Trump on Friday recommended that Americans cover their faces with masks when outdoors to avoid contracting coronavirus.
The advice came on Friday with over 275,000 Americans infected by the virus and 7,067 killed over.
However, Trump said he would not wear the mask himself.
The decision was a policy U-turn for the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It also breached World Health Organisation guideline about the precautionary measures people can take to avoid contracting the deadly virus.
The volte-face followed growing scientific research suggesting their widespread use can stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s going to be really a voluntary thing,” Trump said. “You don’t have to do it and I’m choosing not to do it, but some people may want to do it and that’s okay.”
The about-face was widely expected after senior health officials told reporters the scientific evidence had evolved.
Speaking to Fox News on Friday, Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, cited “recent information that the virus can actually be spread even when people just speak as opposed to coughing and sneezing.”
Days earlier, the CDC’s Robert Redfield said up to a quarter of people who are infected may be asymptomatic.
Taken together, the developments represent powerful arguments in favour of the widespread use of facial coverings.
Previously, the advice given by CDC and WHO was that masks should only be used by sick people and their caregivers.
The new recommendations are in line with those made by France’s National Academy of Medicine on Friday, and by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio a day earlier.
The city has seen almost 1,000 of the US’s nearly 7,000 deaths.
But the message was undermined by the fact that none of the officials present at Friday’s briefing were following it.
Trump said he would not be wearing one “as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don’t know, it somehow, I don’t see it for myself.”