NYC Mayor de Blasio urges New Yorkers to cover face with scarves or bandanas outside

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Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, speaks at a news conference as the USNS Comfort hospital ship arrives at Pier 90 in New York, U.S., on Monday, March 30, 2020.

Angus Mordant | Bloomberg | Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told New Yorkers to cover their faces when they go outside, even if it’s a homemade mask, reversing previous guidance advising only those who are sick wear face masks.

“We’re advising New Yorkers to wear a face covering when you go outside and near other people,” de Blasio said at a press conference Thursday. “It can be a scarf, it can be something you create at home it can be a bandana.”

De Blasio cautioned residents against wearing surgical masks or other medical-grade masks, worrying that it would make the shortage for personal protective equipment in hospitals even worse.

“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.

The less fancy the face covering, the better, said Dr. Oxiris Barbot, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She recommended keeping more than one face covering on hand to alternate between them.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump recommended scarves as protection against the coronavirus. “It doesn’t have to be a mask,” Trump said at a press briefing Tuesday night. “You can use scarves. You can use something else over your face.”

The following evening, Trump repeated that advice, claiming without evidence that scarves are “highly recommended by the professionals.”

“Depending on the fabric, I think in a certain way a scarf is better,” Trump claimed.

Doctors have warned that wearing masks in public, homemade or otherwise, can be counterproductive because they might engender a “false sense of security,” leading people to practice more effective social distancing measures less carefully.

“As far as the general public is concerned, the do-it-yourself option of wearing a scarf or bandana may be the best we can do at this point,” said Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Angela Hewlett of the Infectious Diseases Society of America said that wearing a scarf or bandana could protect others from the spread of the coronavirus. It might also keep people from touching their faces, she said.

“A scarf acts sort of like a handkerchief or a tissue,” Hewlett said. “If you’re wearing a scarf around your face, or another homemade mask, then there’s a chance that your secretions will be contained in that as opposed to being spread to the environment.”

On Wednesday, de Blasio said the city needs to find 3.3 million N95 masks, 2.1 million surgical masks, 100,000 isolation gowns and 400 ventilators by Sunday to get the city’s hospitals ready for a coming wave of coronavirus patients expected by Monday. 

Globally, the coronavirus has infected more than 1 million people and has killed at least 50,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

CNBC’s Dan Mangan contributed to this article. 

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates. 

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