The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday recommended the "universal use of face masks" as a key step to fighting the coronavirus pandemic, warning the U.S. has "entered a phase of high-level transmission."
The agency recommended in a report that officials at the state and local level "issue policies or directives mandating universal use of face masks in indoor (nonhousehold) settings" as one strategy to combat the virus, a tactic President Trump and many GOP governors have resisted.
The CDC said wearing a mask is most important when someone is indoors somewhere besides their house and outdoors when six feet of distance cannot be maintained. Masks should also be used inside one's household when someone is infected or has had recent exposure to the virus, the report said.
Wearing masks is the first strategy listed among many in the CDC report, which warns that mitigation measures are increasingly important "with colder weather, more time spent indoors, the ongoing U.S. holiday season, and silent spread of disease."
In addition to masks, the report also recommends that people "avoid nonessential indoor spaces and crowded outdoor settings."
The CDC also said states and localities could "issue policies or directives restricting some nonessential indoor spaces that pose the highest risk for transmission," later giving the example of indoor dining. Experts have long called for indoor dining and bars to be closed or limited, but many states have not taken such steps.
The report comes as health officials are increasingly raising the alarm that more precautions are needed as new cases top 200,000 per day heading into winter.
The CDC also reiterated a call it issued before Thanksgiving that "travel should be postponed," though at the same time it said if people do choose to travel, they should be tested 1-3 days before and 3-5 days after.
A White House task force report earlier this week gave even starker warnings to people over 65 or with underlying conditions, saying they should limit leaving their homes by getting groceries and medications delivered.
Hospital capacity is being strained around the country amid the surge in the virus, making precautions more urgent to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
"Continuing mitigation efforts will be essential to preserve capacity for adequate treatment of persons with COVID-19 and other urgent health conditions," the CDC report said.