Federal health officials on Friday urged organizers of large gatherings that involve shouting, chanting or singing to “strongly encourage” the use of cloth face coverings to lower the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
The guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comes after more than a week of national protests against police brutality where many attendees and police did not wear masks. It also coincides with President Trump’s plans to hit the campaign trail next week and to accept his party’s nomination in Jacksonville, Fla. The Republican National Committee has indicated it does not want to require participants to wear masks for the speech.
Jay Butler, CDC’s deputy director of infectious diseases, sidestepped questions about whether the agency’s guidance on wearing masks at large gatherings applies to political rallies, saying the recommendations speak for themselves.
“They are not regulations. They are not commands,” said Butler, who is helping to lead the agency’s response. “But they are recommendations or even suggestions … how you can have a gathering that will keep people as safe as possible.”
CDC Director Robert Redfield began the agency’s first full-fledged briefing for the public in more than three months, saying he recognizes that Americans are eager to return to normal activities. But it’s important for them to remember “this situation is unprecedented and that the pandemic has not ended,” he said.
Butler said that in coming weeks, states could see new case growth as they reopen and the number of mass gatherings also increases. He warned about “additional potential challenges” in the fall and winter when covid-19 and seasonal flu could be circulating together.
If cases start to increase dramatically, he said officials may need to reconsider the kinds of measures states used in March, such as stay-at-home orders. But he said those decisions need to be made by local officials. Many Americans remain at risk for infection because the vast majority still have not been exposed to the virus, he said.
On large gatherings, the guidance says event planners should consider several strategies, from broadcasting regular announcements about steps attendees could take to reduce the virus’ spread, to limiting attendance or seating capacity to allow for social distancing, to reconfiguring parking lots to limit congregation points. It also suggests limiting attendance to people who live in the area and working with local officials to identify how to separate people with covid-like symptoms, or those who have tested positive for the virus but do not have symptoms.
Separately, officials laid out recommendations to help individuals reduce their own risk for infection as they resume daily activities. Besides urging people to continue taking precautions such as hand-washing, wearing face covering, and keeping six feet from others, it made specific suggestions for certain activities, including:
*Going to the bank — Use drive-through services or ATMs;
*Hosting a cookout — Encourage people to bring their own food and drinks and identify one person to serve shareable items;
* Traveling overnight — Consider taking the stairs at hotels, or wait to ride alone in the elevator or only with people from your household.
Officials also released a report showing Americans strongly supported stay-at-home orders in early to mid-May, with most adults reporting they would not feel safe if those orders were lifted. Most also said they often or always wore face coverings.
The report was based on a survey of more than 2,000 adults nationwide, including separate surveys for residents of New York City and Los Angeles. Researchers found widespread agreement across the country for keeping six feet apart from others, wearing cloth face coverings, and for nonessential workers to stay home, with the strongest support for those measures in Los Angeles and New York, which were hardest hit by the pandemic.
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