LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has recommended that the city’s 4 million people wear masks when going outside amid the spreading coronavirus.
Garcetti on Wednesday said people in the nation’s second-largest city who are performing essential tasks such as food shopping should wear homemade, non-medical face coverings, or even bandannas, as people in other countries hard-hit by the COVID-19 virus have done.
Garcetti said the look would be “surreal” but people will have to get used to it.
But he also said people still should stay at home as much as possible.
The mayor also said residents shouldn’t use medical-grade masks, which are in short supply and are needed by healthcare workers and first responders.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
One of California’s largest counties is recommending all residents wear face masks to combat the coronavirus, but Gov. Gavin Newsom isn’t ready to take that idea statewide, focusing instead Wednesday on keeping people inside and adding thousands more hospital beds than previously stated.
Newsom now projects needing 66,000 more hospital beds for the anticipated peak of cases in late May — 16,000 more than his prior projections.
Newsom was expected to release guidelines for masks, but said he did not think they should be a substitute for keeping a safe distance from other people and taking additional measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
“They are not a substitute for a stay-at-home order. They are not a call to get folks to find N95 masks or surgical masks and pull them away or compete against our first responders,” Newsom said.
Riverside County public health officer Dr. Cameron Kaiser said Tuesday that people who need to go out in public should use something — even bandanas or neck warmers — to cover their mouths and noses to protect others and themselves.
The virus is transmitted in droplets that can be spread through coughs or sneezes, so some type of covering could help even if it’s not a hospital-grade mask, Kaiser said.
Kaiser issued the recommendation because the state’s fourth-largest county was seeing infections rise faster than predicted. At the current rate, he said Wednesday that it would run out of hospital beds April 12 and ventilators by April 26.
“When the situation changes, the rule book changes,” Kaiser said in a news release. “We’re seeing our numbers increasing even sooner than we predicted, and that means our strategy must change too.”
U.S. and global health authorities have said people who are not health care workers shouldn’t wear a mask unless they’re sick — to prevent infecting others.
The World Health Organization recommended people caring for a sick relative wear a mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed — as long as the person who was ill was not able to wear a mask.
But there has been some conflicting direction. Austria said this week it would require masks for grocery shoppers. President Donald Trump suggested people who are worried should wear a scarf.
California’s public health officer, Dr. Sonia Angell, said face coverings could prevent the spread of the virus, but if worn incorrectly or handled improperly could lead to infection. They could also lead people to let down their guard and not stay the recommended distance of 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from others.
“When we speak about the potential downfalls, which we also must acknowledge, they can be that if people have these masks on, they feel somewhat immune, they feel like they can get closer to other people,” Angell said.
The spread of the virus statewide has, so far, been slow enough to give the state time to prepare for an expected spike in cases that could overwhelm hospitals if extreme measures aren’t taken to keep most people home and away from others.
The state had more than 9,300 virus cases and 199 deaths reported Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University, which is keeping a global tally.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Newsom has been talking in the past week about increasing hospital beds in the state by two-thirds to add 50,000 new beds at locations that could include convention centers and arenas to cope with peak demand next month. On Wednesday, he increased that number.
“Modeling shows we’ll need roughly 66,000 beds towards the end of May,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said at a news conference with the governor.
Newsom had bad news for parents Wednesday when he said schools should plan to teach from afar for the rest of the academic year.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond provided similar guidance to districts Tuesday evening. The decision on whether students will return to the classroom will ultimately be up to school districts.
Associated Press writers Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.