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Do People Without Symptoms Need To Wear Masks When They Go Outside?

A person with a mask crosses an empty street in West Hollywood this week. (Valerie Macon /AFP via Getty Images)
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We’re asking public health officials and experts to answer your questions about the COVID-19 pandemic. Keep in mind that this information does not constitute professional medical advice. For questions regarding your own health, always consult a physician.

Many of you have been writing in with questions about masks. With news about the virus potentially “lingering” in the air folks want to know: “Should people without symptoms be wearing them when they go out?”

"We are now recommending that Angelenos use homemade face coverings when they're in public, and interacting with others," Garcetti said at his daily COVID-19 briefing.

At the same time, he stressed that people should still stay home.

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"This isn't an excuse to suddenly all go out, you need to stay at home," he said. "But when you have to go out, we are recommending that we use non-medical grade masks or facial coverings, and not take the ones that are reserved for our first responders."

Prior to the new guidance, we talked with Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, with UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, and a former staffer with the Centers For Disease Control.

“Really the masks are for someone who is ill. And they of course should be staying in self-isolation, not going out. But if they went out, for example, to have to seek medical care, that's the person that should be wearing a mask, so that when they cough, they don't infect others.

If you were actually caring for someone in your own home that had COVID-19, when you entered that room, they should be putting on their mask and you could be putting on a mask, but that's not for people that are just going outside and outdoors.”

In his nightly update, Garcetti said his decision was based on a new understanding that people are transmitting the disease before they begin to show symptoms. That means if you wait until you don't feel well to cover your face and self-isolate, it's already too late.

So what are the chances of acquiring the virus when you DO venture out? Dr. Kim-Farley addressed this when he answered Brad Worley’s question. Worley asks:

“If I [wear] gloves and [a] face mask and practice keeping my distance from people ... How much of a risk am I taking of catching the virus when I go outside?”

Kim-Farley said:

“I think the main thing is to recognize that really, what we're really trying to practice is a social distancing when you're going outside, physical distance, I prefer to use that term because we're still trying to socially bond but be physically apart.”

Important note: We're still expecting guidance on masks today from the state of California. Gov. Gavin Newsom again today stressed at his news briefing that face coverings are not a substitute for social distancing.

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Riverside County officials had released new recommendations about masks on Tuesday: